DEN Completes Gate Expansion Program

April 18, 2023
In an effort to increase gate capacity, Denver International Airport is adding 39 new gates.
Denver International Airport
Concourse A West
Concourse A West

Denver International Airport is working on a project called Vision 100. The goal of the project is to prepare for and reach 100 million annual passengers in the next eight to 10 years. In order to reach that goal, DEN launched a Gate Expansion Program to increase gate capacity at the airport by 30 percent. The first four of the anticipated 39 new gates opened on the west side of Concourse B in November 2020, 16 gates were completed on the east side of Concourse C in May 2022 and five new gates on the east side of Concourse B in October 2022.  

Most recently, the airport completed its Concourse A West expansion in November 2022 with 12 gates, 16 holdrooms, 10,000 square feet of new concessions space and a new outdoor deck with views of the mountains.  

Due to the scope of the project, the work was split in two: west side and east side concourse expansions with two contractors and two aviation design teams. HNTB and Turner Flatiron worked with DEN on the design and build of the west side, while Jacobs and Holder and FCI took on the east side.  

Senior Vice President of Airport Expansions at DEN, Stuart Williams said dividing the project in two also helped to not overstress any company. 

“If you can break up the work, it comes with its own challenges, but it also allows the work to be spread around a little bit more. As well as without over taxing a particular group,” Williams said. “We had a management team that managed both because we didn't want the east side design to look drastically different from the west side design, but we also wanted to give the architects the latitude to adapt to what side they were on.” 

Features of the Newly Completed A West Concourse 

One of the most common themes travelers will see throughout the concourse is the use of natural lighting.  

HNTB Chief Design Officer Tim Cahill said the existing building is a series of horizontal glass windows and horizontal metal panels, and DEN wanted to utilize more glazing panels in the new building.  

“So what we did is we used more glass, but with elements of frit panels, frit dots, if you will, on the glazing panels themselves,” Cahill said. “They actually gradate to a higher density of frit on the glazing to mimic what we call the mountain patterning of the existing metal panels and that does allow in more daylight.” 

One of the most notable and unique areas of the airport where the use of natural lighting is utilized is in the restrooms.  

One of the things we started to think about to make the concourses unique is bringing in natural daylight in spaces that maybe you wouldn't think of or views in spaces you wouldn't think of,” Cahill said. “Some airports have started to add some volume within the restrooms. We actually kind of flipped the design, if you will, and we put the spaces where the sinks are and we put windows in the restrooms. You have these beautiful views to the vista of the mountains in the distance to the airfield and we're bringing in natural daylight into those spaces.” 

Williams added, “The restrooms are spectacular. The restrooms really promote social distancing. They're very spacious. The actual toilet stalls are bigger, longer, wider; makes it better for the travelers.” 

Cahill said one of the challenges they faced during this project was working with the space they were given. HNTB capitalized on the height and volume of those spaces by adding more glass panels.  

We took those centralized spaces and we added an amount of glass that provided views back to the airport itself,” Cahill said. “And then as you get higher within those spaces, they have those views back to the mountains in Colorado.” 

Improved Wayfinding 

Williams said the wayfinding scheme for the expansion is significantly different than the legacy concourse scheme.  

The goal of the wayfinding scheme was to make sure it was easy for travelers to tell what gate they’re at, but also reduce clutter by combining gate information and advertising on digital banner signs.  

“I think from a passenger point of view, [we were] trying to make things as simple and as direct as possible,” Cahill said. “So, we were able to minimize the clutter and provide more information. And also, as part of that overall wayfinding system, we call them the portal signs. They're the signs that are basically over the doors that go to the loading bridges. The airlines control most of that so that they can use that for information for their passengers that are at that particular gate.” 

Traveler Comfort  

Williams said the way the holdroom areas were designed, they appeal to all types of travelers; business travelers who need access to charging stations, families who want to sit together or single travelers looking for private space.  

“People want to be able to charge their phones, they want to be able to have comfortable seating. They want to be able, whenever possible, to have some privacy,” Williams said. “So, what we tried to do is we tried to mix up the seating. All the seating has places that they can charge their phones or computers. We gave a variety of seating, whether you're with a family or just by yourself. We tried to come up with different ways to appeal to as many people as possible, and people comment on that a lot.” 

When designing the holdrooms, HNTB worked with Zoeftig to select the ideal seating.  

“Nowadays we're really creating different types of seating, different types of experiences within the hold room capacities,” Cahill said. “We worked directly with Zoeftig for the seating, [they] developed a specific chair line for the airport. We also had an interior design firm that actually worked directly with us. And a local design firm, Kirsty Ferguson with Gallun Snow.” 

In addition to the improved wayfinding and thoughtfully designed holdrooms, the airport also expanded the concession space by 10,000 square feet.  

“That concession space will take a year or two to develop, but ultimately there'll be more concessions, both food and beverage as well as retail,” Williams said.  

As guests travel beyond the concessions area, they will find an outdoor deck area at the very end of the concourse where they can go outside and take in the fresh air.  

“Here in Denver, we're usually very proud of our weather. People like to be outside. It gives them an opportunity to get outside,” Williams said. “On the west side they can look at the mountains as well as the airfield. On the east side they can look to the airfield and the planes. So it's very spectacular on both of them, and the passengers really love that ability to go outside.” 


Denver’s Concourse B West, Four-Gate Expansion project achieved LEED Gold certification. In order to meet requirements for certification, DEN made it a priority to make sure their water fixtures were as efficient as possible.  

“All of our fixtures …we out west, water is always a problem, I mean it's in short supply. So, one of the LEED ratings that we do is the efficiency of our water fixtures,” Williams said. “Whether they're sinks or toilets, whatever, we try to get the most efficient from a water usage point of view. And because of what we did, roughly off the top of my head, we save with the new concourse is about 40% more water than the legacy concourse. And that's significant for the area and for us.” 

In addition, DEN also put a lot of effort into the efficiency of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.  

“All of the expansions have photovoltaic tag panels up on the roofs,” said Williams. “So, we're basically trying to provide as much power as we can, clean energy if you will. … Part of the architecture is we have a lot of natural light, and that's a great thing, but it also comes with its issues as well because you could get heat loss or heat gain because of so much window space, frankly,” Williams said. “So, the curtain walls, which are a lot of it is glass, is designed in such a way to minimize the amount of heat gain or heat loss. So again, when you talk about technology, it's technology plus it's part of this whole LEED sustainability aspect that we go for.” 

Looking to the Future 

DEN is on track to add five new gates and nine remodeled gates to Concourse A East by mid-2024.  

Williams said DEN will still be working for the next year or so on reshuffling the airlines and redoing space and gates. 

“In 2020 United and Southwest actually leased basically all the new gates,” Williams said. “United went from 68 to 90 gates. Southwest went from 24 gates to 40 gates. And in order to make all that work, once we get these major expansions done, we have to move all the airlines around so that United's contiguous with United as much as possible. Southwest is contiguous with Southwest as much as possible.” 

Sidebar: What does an airport need to consider? What do passengers want? 

HNTB Chief Design Officer Tim Cahill gives his perspective on the elements most important to a designer during a major concourse expansion project.  

“Upon arrival into the building, I want a sense of welcoming. I want a sense of identity that this is Denver, that it's about Denver, it's about that region. It's grounded to that place. But then when I get to security, I want a sense of calming. It needs to be very easy. Some spaces you go to, some airports it's like, ‘why have they made this so tough? Why does it need to be so crowded?’ It needs to be a lot easier, the process sometimes. And so, think security design … it certainly needs to be made efficient for TSA, but it could certainly be made I think a lot easier and calming. 

And once I'm through that security and down into the concourses, I want to a variety of choices … whether it's I can go sit in the corner and read an article or work, or if I'm traveling with little kids, I can take care of my kids. Or if I'm traveling and I don't really want to be around kids, I can still have that choice. I want that choice of what I call adventure of whether it's a different type of concession product or a different type of variety of retail product. I want to be able to see that and see that easily. 

And then it just depends on how much time I can spend in that airport space. And I think being able to see beyond the airport and see the airfield and have the joy of anticipation of the space. Sometimes the romance of travel gets lost a little bit when everyone's worried about getting to the gate as fast as possible. And then once you get there, it's like, okay, why did I hurry? I'm just going to stand here now and wait 35 minutes and look at the same carpet pattern or look at the same type of seating that I see in any city. That's kind of how it is now. And I think we're trying to get away from that. We need to provide this variety of choice for people in design, and I think airports are figuring that out. I know designers are trying to work very hard with airports to provide that variety of choice. I think what also intrigues designers is can you make it unique to a city? But you don't have to make it so contextual that it's kitchy. We don't really want to make it so much [where] you can tell when this was exactly designed. There has to be a level of timeless design to anything that you do.”