Austin-Bergstrom Int’l Adds 9 Gates & More Local Vibes

Austin-Bergstrom Int’l Adds 9 Gates & More Local Vibes
Kristin V. Shaw
Published in: 

In a construction trailer at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS), Gensler Senior Associate Vineta Clegg’s desk area is strewn with birthday decorations. Across the office, the desk of a colleague is also festooned, even months after the event. Snacks and photos of children abound.


Project: Terminal Expansion

Location: Austin-Bergstrom Int’l Airport, TX

Scope: 175,000 sq. ft. of new space, 9 new gates in the Barbara Jordan East Terminal

Cost: $350 million for apron & terminal improvements ($311 million for construction)

Funding: Airport bonds; FAA grants

Timeline: Design approved in 2014; 90% finished by Nov. 2019

Noteworthy Features: Texas dance-hall design; outdoor deck space for passengers; pair of helix staircases; clerestory glazing; central tower 

Design Architect: Gensler

Associate Architect: Carter Design Associates  

Programming: LeighFisher Associates 

General Contractor: Hensel Phelps

Structural Engineer: AEC

Environmental & Civil Engineering: Doucet & Chan

Quality Assurance/Control: Encotech Engineering Consultants

Security: AECOM 

Environmental Engineering: Baer

Public Address System & Acoustics: Bai LLC

Baggage Handling System: BNP Associates 

Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing Engineer & Special Systems/Radio: Burns & McDonnell

MEP/Fire Protection Engineer: Jose I Guerra Consulting Engineers

Roofing/Waterproofing: Engineered Exteriors

Lighting Designer: Fisher Marantz Stone 

Main Holdroom Seating: Eames Tandem Sling T Beam Seating, supplied by Workplace Resources

Geotechnical Engineering: HVJ Associates

Fire Life Safety/Code: Jensen Hughes 

Information Technology/Audio Visual: Moye Consulting

Landscape Architect: MWM Design Group

Civil/Airside Apron Engineers: RS&H

Civil/Landside & Associate Architect: Sunland Group 

Passenger Boarding Bridge Subcontractor: Thyssen Krupp

Public Relations: Beverly Silas & Associates

“We have four women in this office,” Clegg says with a smile. “It’s exciting and unusual.”  

As project architect for the nine-gate expansion at AUS, Clegg has overseen the design team since the project began in 2014. She and the three other women in the trailer—one from Sunland Group and two from Gensler—led the design and construction of the airport’s $350 million east terminal expansion, which was nearing completion at the end of last year. Clegg is from Ireland, her Gensler colleagues are from India and Mississippi, and the Sunland representative is from Texas. 

The consultants and contractors worked closely with Lyn Estabrook, manager of the airport’s Planning and Development Division, who also oversees tenant projects.  

“This expansion allows our partner airlines to expand their services,” Estabrook says. Specifically, it increases the size of the terminal 29% and passenger capacity by 36%. “As a result, we anticipate more direct flights,” she notes. 

Together, Estabrook and the project team from the construction trailer focused on delivering a warm and welcoming airport environment that mirrors the people of the city itself. With an overall Texas dance-hall design, numerous spaces designated for art, and a whimsical pet relief area, the expansion is uniquely Austin and focused squarely on the future.  

Plan Hatched a Decade Ago

Austin, as anyone from the city will tell you, is growing fast—too fast for some long-term residents. The city has grown from a small, livable place famous for its eclectic and welcoming attitude to a bustling, rapidly expanding metropolis. 

Fortunately, the planning team at AUS predicted associated increases in passenger volume and started planning a gate expansion more than 10 years ago. In 2019, that nine-gate addition became a reality. 

“The gate expansion was included in the master plan back in 2008,” says Estabrook. “We knew there was a good space within the terminal to add more gates to the concourse, but we waited out the recession and started the design and implementation in 2014.” 

For the last several years, Austin has been on the fast track. The latest U.S. Census Bureau statistics rank Austin as the fastest-growing major metropolitan area in the country. Ellen Brunjes-Brandt, the project manager in AUS’ Planning and Development Division, says that the airport begins its planning process by studying overall community growth. Then, planners track monthly enplanements to create traffic projections. 

“I have some fascinating growth models,” says Estabrook. “The math behind it is very complicated: loads, gate utilization, ticket sales, regional sales—it all averages out to what we’re doing.” 

Even with real-time information, the models are being stretched at the seams. For the past few years, passenger growth at AUS has been much higher than anticipated. In fact, the new expansion was designed for 15 million passengers, but the airport hit 15.8 million at the end of 2018. Currently, it’s tracking at 17 million and growing.

With that in mind, the airport set three goals for its terminal expansion:

  • add room to accommodate a 36% increase in passenger volume;
  • expand the airport’s international presence; 
  • enhance the facility’s sense of place

To accommodate this continued growth, the new AUS 2040 Master Plan is designed to prepare for 30 million passengers in 2030 and 40 million in 2040. The airport is currently working on the first phase implementation of the 2040 Master Plan, with the design of a new front terminal and a parallel 20-gate concourse to begin in 2021. 

“It takes about five years to plan, design and build something,” says Estabrook. “We are continuing to look for that Austin feel while planning for the future.”

Dance-Hall Design

Old-fashioned honkytonks are common in Austin, sometimes tucked between high-rise condos and upscale, modern restaurants. It’s this eclectic mix of old and new that inspired the look of the airport’s terminal expansion. Gensler proposed using a Texas dance hall as the model for a retail boulevard-style concourse with plenty of room to move. The idea was to give AUS a distinct footprint that evoked a sense of familiarity and intentional calm, explains Clegg. 

Architects and designers modeled the new concourse after Gruene (pronounced “green”) Hall, the oldest and most famous dance hall in Texas. Exposed ceiling trusses and deep gate areas with low ceilings create an environment that may give passengers the sudden urge to line dance. With the addition of 175,000 square feet, the new concourse has plenty of room for a Texas Two-Step flash mob. 

The team is demonstrably excited to be completing the expansion. “It is rewarding to be a part of a project that will be used by our families, friends and colleagues for many years,” says Priscilla Norosky, project manager for Hensel Phelps. “We’re building a facility that not only provides value to the local community, but internationally, with added flight destinations to connect Austin to the rest of the world.”

Distinctive Architecture

The new concourse includes several details that passengers might not notice overtly but are bound to feel subconsciously. 

To maximize natural light, the Gensler team designed what Clegg refers to as clerestory glazing. In architecture, clerestory windows have been used as far back as ancient Egypt to direct light into large rooms from high above the ground floor. In Austin’s modern concourse, clerestory glazing gives the roof a “floating” appearance and provides diffused lighting.  

Two helix staircases on either side of the center tower are more obvious design features. Crafted in a three-dimensional spiral, the large staircases include 14 tons of steel and are anchored with two curved stringers for support. 

The Oculus Tower, inspired by Austin’s vintage moonlight tower lighting structures, serves as a focal point and houses an all-new Delta Sky Club. The lounge features a covered outdoor patio, custom temperature-controlled glass wine tower, and an extensive selection of tequilas and mezcals that can be sampled as individual pours or in tasting flights. Continuing the focus on local culture, the Sky Club features work from well-known and up-and-coming artists with connections to Texas. 

To showcase Austin’s fondness for outdoor living, the design team incorporated an open-air patio on the second floor of the new concourse. One portion of the East Terrace is reserved for Sky Club members, but the rest is open to all passengers. Together, they provide nearly 5,000 square feet of space for travelers to get a breath of fresh air and enjoy the Southwest sunshine—a particular treat for passengers on long layovers. 

“It’s a great place to take your kids and relax before your flight,” Clegg says. “It’s a nod to a Texas porch and the outdoor spaces in front of bars and restaurants here in Austin.” 

While few U.S. airports have outdoor spaces, AUS has two. The other is located on the ground floor of the South Terminal. 

A single, large restroom bank makes efficient use of space in the new addition. It includes centralized all-inclusive restrooms as well as a separate companion care room that includes a washdown area for guests that are severely disabled. Men’s and women’s restrooms both include changing stations for babies. New nursing rooms have outlets for breast pumps and are large enough for mothers to bring in other children with them. 

“Airports are judged by their restrooms, and this one is more mindful about them,” says Clegg. “The Austin Aviation Department wanted to be more amenable to everyone.” 

International Expansion

A sterile corridor on the mezzanine level provides arriving international travelers a bird’s-eye view of the concourse. When passengers and crew deplane from international flights, they are funneled up to the transparent hallway, where they cross over to the secure Customs area and then to baggage claim. The bottom half of the glass is frosted for privacy. 

Estabrook reports that the airport’s international volume has tripled in the last two years. As such, six of the new gates are equipped to handle international flights, including Group V planes such as Boeing 777s and 747s from British Airways and Lufthansa. Starting in May 2020, Norwegian Airlines will offer direct service from AUS to Paris (Charles de Gaulle Airport). As of November 2019, the airport has six international gates.

Facilitating more international travel will support the city’s special events and add to its growing economy, notes Norosky. 

The airport also expanded and relocated its aircraft deicing area, and added a new jet blast fence at the end of the recently expanded east apron. 

Happy Guests, Happy Team

Inside the terminal, passengers are enjoying new retail and food/beverage options—a total of 29,000 square feet of concessions in all. Starbucks is one of just a few brands not based in Austin. The retail lineup includes the airport’s first duty-free shop. 

Estabrook reports that friends and acquaintances rave about the airport’s recent updates. “When they walk off the plane, they don’t realize they’re back in Austin because it’s more open and brighter, with a more casual feel,” she says. “But then it does feel like Austin, because of the finishes we chose.” 

“Austin is our home,” adds Norosky. “We’ve witnessed, and contributed to, its emergence as a buzzing, fast-growing city. What better way to make an impact than to have a hand in the first thing people see when they visit?” 


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