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

The international terminal, scheduled to open a week from today, speaks with a global voice and a welcoming Texas twang to put travelers at ease.

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.

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