D/FW's New Terminal Can Show You the Way Around

WELCOMING SPACES The faces of passengers who have arrived on international flights at D/FW are displayed in the new customs hall.

GLASS The material is used throughout the terminal's exterior and interior. A glass canopy is above customs check-in areas, security, information kiosks and ambassador stations.

SPECIAL SURFACES Floor textures are designed to help visually impaired travelers know where they are in the terminal.

ARTISTIC TOUCH This tile medallion and others like it mark gate locations at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport's Terminal D.

SIGNS International symbols are posted throughout Terminal D. And ticketing halls have signs in several languages to assist visitors from other nations.

The new parking garage at Dallas/ Fort Worth Airport's Terminal D lets drivers know how many spaces are available on each level. The information is updated throughout the day.

Buildings talk, particularly to strangers.

Enter here. Turn left. Stay here. Look up.

Architectural designs, materials used, accurate signs -- or the lack thereof -- make the difference between a building with a clear voice and one with a muddled voice.

Early on, the designers of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport's Terminal D and the officials who hired them committed themselves to clear architectural communication. The international terminal, scheduled to open a week from today, speaks with a global voice and a welcoming Texas twang intended to put travelers at ease. And, through manipulations both obvious and subliminal, the building makes it easier for them to get around.

"We really put ourselves in the shoes of an international traveler," said Wesley Wong, vice president of aviation for Dallas-based HKS, the project's managing architect. "That's someone who's been on a plane 16 to 30 hours -- tired, frustrated, been stuck in a tin can. If you've never flown D/FW International now -- it's horrible."

That was the starting point for designers in October 1998.

After almost seven years of design and construction, officials hope passengers will find the "intuitive wayfinding" experience -- getting around without needing signs -- much improved.

Intuitive wayfinding for Terminal D began with studies of major international airports, including Hong Kong, London's Heathrow, New York's Kennedy and Paris' Charles de Gaulle.

Walk inside -- from the plane into a gate area or from the parking garage into a ticketing hall -- and you'll notice one rarity right away.

"You see the sky," says Jennifer Johnson, vice president of aviation for Corgan Aviation, the architect of record for Terminal D.

What speaks to aviation more than the sky?

Terminal D uses glass wherever possible.

Natural light pours in through insulated glass, but heat stays in or out, reducing energy costs. The glassy customs hall overlooks the concessions village. Above, the Skylink people mover is visible.

Even in customs processing, where federal law prohibits international passengers from making eye contact with anyone on U.S. soil, frosted glass allows light to seep in.

Start with a mostly transparent building, and passengers -- even strangers -- won't get lost, the designers say.

"Most people won't be in here more than half a dozen times a year," said design architect Steven Reiss, who retired from the firm of HNTB after finishing work on this project. "People can be intimidated by the large facility. They don't know the shortcuts, and they're trying to find restrooms or telephones. You have to look at an airport as a first-time experience."

Stainless steel gives the terminal a modern aeronautic feel. Airports outside the United States have it everywhere. Walls are muted colors, mostly whites and silver.

"Concession graphics and the art program are the only things that pop out -- everything else is background," Johnson said.

And it's really the wood panels hanging from the ceiling that point the way.

Follow the wood and it will guide you through the terminal. From the ticket hall, through security, into concessions and to the gates. Or from the gates, through customs, through baggage and to the exit.

Viewed straight on, the wood appears rectangular. But in a series, the panels form subtle arrows leading passengers through the building.

Through intuitive wayfinding, a person should "feel" the right way to proceed -- to the center of the building.

"If you go through large halls, everything flows to the center, so the next path, the next portal from one space to the next is always in the center," says Clay Paslay, D/FW's executive vice president of airport development.

Can a passenger walk through the building without using signs? That's a consideration.

High ceilings in large halls become lower where face-to-face contact is needed. At security checkpoints, for example.

A glass canopy -- an artificial low ceiling -- is placed above customs check-in areas, security, information kiosks, ambassador stations. The message: A more intimate conversation awaits.

And to help passengers unwind during customs processing, the "art glass canopy" is composed of Japanese rice paper and flowers between two pieces of glass.

"We manipulate the height of the roof to guide the passenger through the specific location," Reiss said. "Using a series of these techniques, the passengers can literally walk to the front door, to the concessions, the holding room, using only architectural clues."

Where the ceiling is high, people are likely to gather.

See a major art piece nearby?

Again, a reference point -- a gathering node, also with a high ceiling.

Whether you're in ticketing, concessions or customs, you always have a view of the Skylink trains whizzing by.

The message: Travel is going on.

Airports by nature tend to be noisy. Sound bounces off the hard floors, which are needed for durability. That's where the specially designed perforated roofing with acoustical backing comes in.

The absorbed sound lowers stress levels -- there is less annoying click, click, click, click, click.

Offices below the ticketing halls also have a special sound-absorbing ceiling, Johnson said.

In case a traveler doesn't pick up on the building's clues, signs with international symbols are posted throughout Terminal D. Ticketing halls have signs in several languages. A term like toilet was selected over restroom because more people -- the Brits and the French, for example -- are likely to understand.

Airline workers and airport ambassadors are waiting to assist the lost or confused.

If Terminal D still doesn't make sense, ask a human.

With the help of a focus group, designers included ways to make navigating Terminal D easier for travelers with disabilities, including:

Artistic medallions that give floors a different texture for the visually impaired.

Service-animal relief areas in customs, for quick stops after long flights.

Sliding doors, security bollards/barriers to protect the terminal against possible car bombs. The barriers also help define the curb for travelers with poor vision.

Curbless crosswalks that eliminate the need to navigate slopes and that create a natural speed bump for motorists.

D/FW AIRPORT -- Move aside, Fear Factor.

An hourlong program featuring Dallas/Fort Worth Airport's new international Terminal D will air during prime time Monday night on NBC5/KXAS.

Taking Flight: The New DFW International, which airs at 7 p.m., examines the design and construction of D/FW's fifth terminal and discusses what the airport's expansion could mean for North Texas, said Brian Hocker, the program's executive director.

"It's a good look at a huge undertaking by an airport that touches all North Texans in one way or another," Hocker said. And deserving of a prime-time program, he said.

"We are gratified that Channel 5 saw the successful completion of this massive project as an important community event," D/FW Chief Executive Jeff Fegan said.

"It's clear this is a milestone event in North Texas history that will affect millions of our citizens and our visitors in a very positive way."