Situated in southwestern Oklahoma, USA, 8 km. from Oklahoma City, lies Oklahoma’s largest and busiest domestic and international airport, the Will Rogers World Airport (WRWA). It was named after the multi-faceted Will Rogers, who was a comedian, actor and legendary cowboy among other things, who championed the cause of aviation expansion as a result of his keen observations gleaned from his world travels. In 2007, approximately 3.74 million passengers used the WRWA. With such enormous passenger volumes and taking into account footfall and airport traffic projections in the future, there was an urgent need to upgrade and expand the existing terminal built way back in 1967. The September 11th events in 2001 altered the aviation industry forever with the introduction of a host of security regulations. In conformity with the ‘new normal’ and in an effort to position the WRWA as a world-class modern airport, a massive transformation was envisioned for the airport. It was sought to be a beacon portraying Oklahoma at its finest and as straddling two worlds, that of cutting-edge technological advancements while retaining and highlighting its respect for its local culture, flavor, businesses, and never losing sight of the environmental consequences of design.

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Design & Planning

The period from 1997 to 2000 was spent in the planning and design of this major undertaking. Phase-wise construction began in 2001 with funding for this mammoth task from the Oklahoma City Airport Trust. Designed by a global consultant in aviation and chiefly sustainability in aviation, Landrum & Brown, and architecture, engineering, and design-build firms Atkins Benham, Inc. and Gensler, and internationally recognized firms, Frankfurt-Short-Bruza Associates in partnership with Hellmuth Obata & Kassabaum (HOK), it promised to be one-of-a-kind in terms of vision, stature and environmental consciousness. The lead contractor for the project was the construction firm The Boldt Company.  

The aim was to construct in phases so that airport operations are maintained, while the new concourses are built, and while retaining and renovating usable portions of the existing structure. The sprawling new terminal comprises a spacious continuous concourse with 17 loading gates. It is built with future expansion in mind to cater to anticipated future needs. The floor space of approximately 600,000 square feet ensures wider aisles, ticket lobbies, baggage areas, and lounges. The voluminous look is further enhanced by the 53 ft. high ceiling. A suspended viewing gallery, with lounge seating provided for traveling and non-traveling public alike, at the core of the terminal provides for an unhindered airfield observation experience and panoramic vistas of the prairie landscape. This lounging space also provides space for exhibits to enhance aesthetic appeal. Two security checkpoints incorporated into the entry of the concourse facilitate efficient inspection even during high passenger traffic. The expanded exit and entry traffic circles facilitate smooth movement of pick-up and drop-off even during peak hours. The highlight of an adjoining plaza garden, infusing fresh air and providing a refreshing and pleasant view to travel-weary passengers and visitors alike, is a tribute in the form of a life-size statue of Will Rogers performing a rope trick sitting astride Teddy, his favorite horse. In order to ensure safe and all-weather movement, a tunnel was created from the terminal to the new facility comprising 7500 parking capacity. The expansion of the parking facilities was done in recognition of the need to create valuable new revenue streams for the airport. After travelers pass through this checkpoint, they will enter the new “town square” that acts as the new heart of the airport. Within this town square, passengers will have access to concessions, amenities, and lounging areas with great views of the airport to encourage passengers to spend time at the outlets and to enhance user experience. Jostling for space amongst the usual gift and food outlets are a host of other businesses that showcase Oklahoman lifestyle, products, and tastes. Thoughtful additions like a lactation room and pet relief area, and user-centric focus in wayfinding signage and high-tech improvements made to provide up-to-date information to travelers emphasize a commitment to ease of travel. The new additions will also feature a public observation deck brought back from the 1960s which will be a pre-security, suspended viewing deck that floats above the terminal’s new town square.  It will have aviation exhibits and offer views of the concourses and airfield. The viewing deck will be open to visitors and allow meeters and greeters to make visual contact with friends and family members as they pass into secure departure areas and gates. To provide seamless movement of passengers, the center elevator was relocated to connect the pedestrian tunnel, ticketing levels, and baggage claim areas. 

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Materials

Materials used throughout the construction include the prominent usage of Oklahoma native stone, 6 different kinds of plate glass, metal, and stainless steel. The glass used in areas of direct sunlight exposure has a maximum of 31% emissivity. Modern technology juxtaposed against the raw natural stone and the usage of native grass and trees in the lush plaza garden epitomizes the harmonious existence of modernity and nature. Angled beams and wood paneling abound in the structure to represent Oklahoma’s glory, tradition, and culture. The runways are efficiently paved in concrete and asphalt.

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Energy & Sustainability 

Expansive clerestory windows and skylights invite mood uplifting natural light into the structure. The airport possesses a Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system with an air handling capacity of approximately 400,000 cubic feet a minute, a 600hp boiler for heating, and 2500t of required cooling, and 30,000 feet of hydronic piping. An energy-efficient state-of-the-art control system was installed to save energy when the airport was not operating at full capacity. The design of the structure is characterized by the use of passive solar shading devices, appropriate to the orientation of openings, that is, adapting to north and south-facing facades. A persistent focus on sustainability and to LEED green building standards by minimizing building waste, recycling where possible and efficient use of energy and water are the highlights of this infrastructure. The stormwater collection system consists of an underground collection system and the roof drainage is carefully collected through an internal pipe system in the building. The roof material is non-reflective in finish. The objective is to ensure that while reflecting advanced technological advancement associated with aviation, Oklahoma’s environment is not compromised.

References:

https://www.airport-technology.com

https://flyokc.com

http://www.benham.com

https://www.hok.com

https://okcmod.com

https://www.flyokc.com/

Rashmi Nair
Author

Rashmi Nair is an architect, interior designer, and fashion illustrator who is an ardent lover of all things design. She strives to be sustainable in design and life and strongly believes in the ‘Less is More’ idealogy. She enjoys exploring museums, reading, making lists, and a hot cup of coffee

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