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  • Stephanie Taylor

    'Making Connections,' acrylic and pencil on vellum

  • Stephanie Taylor / Special to The Bee

    Title of artwork: "The Approach" Acrylic and pencil on vellum

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California Sketches: The architecture of flying

Published: Sunday, Sep. 4, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 3E
Last Modified: Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014 - 8:39 pm

Soaring steel beams and curved surfaces of wood and glass define Sacramento's new international airport terminal. Expressed in this vast, light-filled and transparent space is a narrative about the spirit of this land, a flat, richly patterned landscape bordered by two mountain ranges.

Like the trees that line our streets, massive arching beams of wood intersect in a central corridor of vertical columns. Multiple levels of clerestories carry light penetrating far into this hall, casting a dynamic dance of shadows across the terrazzo floor. Maple ceiling panels are accented by recycled redwood from an old Mokelumne River bridge. Louvered glass walls are canted to the mountains. When this city was founded in the 1840s, the heat and swampland was unbearable. But by planting and protecting trees, the area between the Sacramento and American rivers was made habitable.

Teams of global architects and contractors collaborated with local stakeholders in this project to portray the distinctive context of our community, our outdoor lifestyle, the Central Valley terrain, the Capitol and especially our urban forest. Corgan Associates and Fentress Architects have created signature aviation projects all over the world, and they've all responded here with attention paid to the tiniest technical detail while representing the public interest.

Conflicting demands dictate the process of contemporary aviation design and construction. Factors include costs, seismic and wind stresses, geography, energy and land management systems, and future growth. Hardy Acree, director of airports for Sacramento County, said the team found a more innovative and creative process "to build to a plan vs. planning to build."

We are suffering between what airports used to be and what they now must be. They used to be purely functional, as in "form follows function." Passengers passed quickly through uninspired buildings. Now we're trapped by restrictions and regulations, and airport architects have responded with a more humanizing experience. Thus form, as in design and services, plays an expanding role in comparison to function. The new term is "curbside to airside." Public spaces function as transitional, circulatory or waiting, and provide amenities from amusements to museums.

On a project of this magnitude – $1.03 billion – lead architects and contractors must be global because of bonding and technical issues. However, most of the partnering architects, engineers, specialists and subcontractors are from the Sacramento area. With effective and innovative communication between teams, there is no gap between thoughtful conceptual vision and specific implementation. Perfection is clearly apparent in the execution and installation of materials chosen for durability, warmth, form and function. This is a project hand built by people deeply invested in their craft.

Like our land, this architecture is expansive. Connections between destinations are visible, from landscaping to terminal, to ticketing and baggage, to people mover and concourse beyond. This airport is a civic gateway, an iconic, optimistic expansion, providing for now and planning for our future.

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