LaGuardia Airport is one of the busiest airports in both New York City and the United States. Initially a site for an amusement park, and later, a privately owned flying field, it was opened up as a commercial airport in 1939 and named after then New York Mayor, Fiorello La Guardia. The airport consists of four terminals- A, B, C, and D, opened gradually, one by one over the years, of which terminal B, which opened in 1964, designed by the firm, Harrison and Abramovitz, is the primary terminal building for the passengers.
Even though advanced for its time, over the years, with increasing air traffic and the number of passengers, the airport’s facilities fell short and its design outdated. Even as late as 2019, a study ranked it last in customer satisfaction amongst 27 large airports in the United States. It has commonly been criticized as ‘dingy and decrepit’.
Due to this criticism, in 2010, initial plans were made to construct a new terminal building. Finally in 2015, after years of stalling, then Vice-President Joe Biden and Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a four billion dollar plan to essentially rebuild the terminal from the bottom-up. The new arrival and departure hall of the terminal B building opened up in June 2020 to an understated opening ceremony amidst the pandemic.
Designed by the renowned firm HOK, in association with the Port Authority, it is a collective vision to transfigure the facility to something that can fulfill the need of the time while also making a statement, the whole airport is ultimately undergoing an 8 billion dollars worth of transformation. Initially a pastiche of several different building blocks, the new master plan unifies multiple terminals into a single built-complex. A homage to the architectural significance and the values of the city of New York, terminal B is a fluid-structure that follows the curves of the Grand Central Parkway and has been built on a grand scale. It is a four-story structure covering an area of about 850,000 sq ft. The services that the building incorporates include check-ins, baggage drop-offs/pick-ups, and security. In addition to this, there are also retail areas, indoor dining zones, and outdoor ones that give grand views of Manhattan.
The central structure leads, through bridges, to the western and eastern concourse having 35 gates in total, where the flights arrive and depart. Sleek in appearance, the transparent façade of the 450 ft. long bridges gives people a view of both the airfield as well as the city. The efficient planning also allowed for the creation of two more aircraft taxi lanes, thereby improving its capacity and decreasing the number of delays. This has increased the maximum footfall threshold of the terminal to up to 17.5 million passengers every year.
Unlike the previously low-height ceilings and dimly-lit spaces, the edifice has 60 ft. high ceilings, and floor-to-ceiling tall windows that make space look lighter, brighter, and fresher. The interiors have an intermittent inter-mixture of both large-height and more human-scale spaces as one moves from one area to the other. Both arrival and departure have high ceilings, unlike most other airports where departure spaces are treated with more flamboyance than the arrival spaces.
The construction of the new, steel-framed terminal was thoughtfully phased into different stages to enable the airport to function even as it was being constructed, thereby saving both time and costs. The steel trusses for the connecting bridges were designed through advanced modeling systems to enable a clear-height of 65 ft. that would allow the planes to taxi underneath while also making sure that the vibration requirements are met. The interiors are very contemporary, and a number of both artistic as well as functional sculptural pieces across areas have been put in place. Many artworks have also been incorporated onto several airport walls. The green spaces inside have been inspired by the parks of New York, which include dense vegetation and playful seating areas.
The terminal showcases the use of several sustainable design strategies. These include- placement of critical systems above flood levels, resilience from storms, proper orientation, use of locally sourced, materials in addition to allowing for flexibility in space usage. Large windows ensure sufficient daylighting, thereby minimizing artificial lighting systems and providing greater visibility across spaces for effortless navigation. There is also a provision of solar heating systems for hot water in toilets, and baggage handling sensors that auto-regulate energy use. The efficient design of the taxi lanes also reduces fuel consumption. As a result of these carefully planned interventions, the project is LEED Silver certified.
The newly opened terminal is drastically different and improved as compared to the previous facility, becoming a state-of-the-art icon unto itself. The whole project is stipulated to be completed by 2021.