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First look: Gensler ups the ante on airport design with new SFO boarding area

The new boarding are is meant to have a hotel-like feel, with a yoga room and private dressing rooms.

February 06, 2014 |
The 65,000-sf boarding area houses 10 gates for United Airlines. Photos courtesy

Gensler and the city of San Francisco recently celebrated the opening of the newly renovated Boarding Area E in Terminal 3 at the San Francisco International Airport. The 65,000-sf, $138 million renovation houses 10 United Airlines gates. 

Boarding Area E enhances airport travelers’ experience through a fresh approach to airport design and interactive technology. The project, built in a design-build partnership between Gensler and Hensel Phelps, features progressive sustainability measures that promote well-being. The partnership is targeting LEED Gold certification for the project. 

To create a clean, contemporary and efficient traveler experience, the project employs a range of expressive architectural elements to showcase views of the airfield and sky. These uninterrupted terminal views give passengers a sense of control over their environment and mitigate travel-related stress. 

“We believe that air travel should be a fluid, relaxing and enjoyable experience from the moment a traveler arrives at the terminal," said Gensler Founder M. Arthur Gensler, Jr. "The T3E opening has given Gensler the chance to build upon our breakthrough design work at T2 and will continue to improve the traveler’s experience. The T3E Terminal is an extension of San Francisco and will raise the bar in passenger-friendly design, access to technology, public art and the best of local food.”



Highlighting service, hospitality, and comfort, T3E’s design gives travelers a variety of choices. Passengers can now view the exquisite art, relax and lounge in private dressing rooms, stretch out in the Yoga Room, and let their children unwind in an interactive play area.

The renovation, part of a capital campaign, includes a Flight Deck developed in partnership with Razorfish that will visibly mark the entry to the boarding area. Composed of three distinct but connected digital experiences, Flight Deck’s content focuses on the airport, the City of San Francisco and international destinations a traveler might be heading.

Other features unique to T3E include pop-up shops that celebrate local merchants; familiar San Francisco restaurants, such as Klein’s Deli and Mission Bar & Grill; and gate lounges that resemble living rooms–complete with ample electrical outlets and free Wi-Fi throughout.



“Gensler’s design for Boarding Area E will offer people a diverse and rich cultural experience from pop-up retail shops by local vendors to healthy Bay Area food offerings,” said Gensler Principal Peter Weingarten. “Passengers can enjoy the airport’s award-winning art program while overlooking the airfield or as part of the commissioned art designed to engage children in the play area [pictured below]."

“This project reflects Gensler’s airport design strategy. We look to give people an experience that feels like they’re guests at a hotel – a great experience as they travel to and from the Bay Area,” Weingarten added.

Designers also sculpted and controlled daylight in a variety of ways, creating spaces that change in character throughout the day and year. In addition to abundant daylight, sustainable features include photovoltaic energy that provides onsite, renewable energy; displacement ventilation, which improves air quality while using 20 percent less energy than typical HVAC systems; recycling and management of demolition and construction waste; and sustainable building materials, such as terrazzo flooring with recycled glass chips, recycled-content carpet and wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. 

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