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An Asian airport with U.S. roots

American consultants' work precedes the completion of plans by the project's Korean architect of record

April 01, 2003 |

The design of the 5.3 million-sq.-ft. passenger terminal for South Korea's newest airport traces its origins 6,500 miles to Denver, the home base of Fentress Bradburn Architects (FBA), the terminal's design architect.

FBA, which also designed the Denver International Airport terminal, won the Incheon International Airport commission in an international design competition in 1992. The airport, which was constructed on a land bridge created between two islands in the Yellow Sea, opened in early 2001.

Incheon is now the international airport for Seoul, 25 miles to the east. It also serves Incheon, a city on the western coast of the Korean peninsula with a population of 2.3 million.

FBA took the project through design development. The plans were then turned over to the project's architect of record, KACI, a collaboration of four major Korean design firms.

The 46-gate, arc-shaped terminal is South Korea's largest building, and was completed at a cost of $1.1 billion. The cost of construction for the entire airport was more than $5 billion.

By infusing the airport with imagery drawn from Korean cultural traditions, the design finds both overt and subtle ways to make the terminal a memorable gateway to the region, according to FBA design principal Curtis Fentress,

The terminal is configured in a welcoming arc. The masts and catenary support system of the roof emulate the large anchored ships in nearby Incheon Harbor. The gentle roof arc of ancient Korean temples is seen in the terminal's sweeping roofline.

"We didn't want this building to be like one in Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles, Fentress says. "We wanted it to feel like it was Korean.

At the heart of the terminal is the Great Hall, a peaceful space with Korean pines and a reflecting pool. Clerestories and skylights admit adequate daylight to allow the cultivation of traditional Korean gardens. Glazed curtain walls at both ends of the terminal provide both natural light and views to the Yellow Sea. A series of moving walkways ensures that users need not walk further than 400 ft.

A major design consideration was to create a facility that would support future expansions. "Projects like this continue to change and will continually grow," Fentress says. "We had to create a building that would be flexible enough to accommodate future changes in use and technologies."

The terminal's curved roof is a prominent feature of the building. It is clad with stainless steel roof panels to resist corrosion in the salt air ocean environment. The design objective was to provide a roof that will last at least 40 years with minimal maintenance, according to Chunbo Shim, structural design manager for Centria. The Pittsburgh-based metal building products manufacturer acted as a design consultant for the roof.

Western expertise sought

Centria's original intent was to supply its products for the terminal. But when Centria made its presentation to airport officials, the Incheon Airport Authority said the company's products were not compatible with the roof design concept, which was too far developed to be changed. Nevertheless, it wanted the benefit of U.S. expertise.

Centria acted as consultant to Hanmaek Heavy Industries, the prime contractor for the terminal roof, and general contractor Samsung Construction Corp., a division of the widely-known electronics company. Both firms are based in Seoul. "The airport authority wanted to be sure that the design, construction, and erection was done properly, based on knowledgeable technical support," Shim says. Centria generally provides engineering support only to its own distributors. But the $500,000 fee it received for its work, along with the prestigious nature of the project, led to an exception in this case.

Other U.S. consultants who worked on the project included Swanson Rink of Denver (mechanical/electrical), Carpenter Associates of Littleton, Colo., (specifications), Kam Partners of Cambridge, Mass. (lighting), Heitmann & Associates of St. Louis (curtain wall), Shen Milsom & Wilke of New York City (acoustical), Lerch, Bates & Associates, Littleton, Colo. (transportation), and RJA of Chicago (codes and life safety).

The airport, billed as the "gateway to Asia," is located within 31/2 hours flying time of 40 cities with a population of more than 1 million.

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