Core Design Team

Firm: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Emily Hope, Architect, SOM
Meagan Ryan, Patano Studio
Richard Whealan, Principal, Miller Hull Partnership
Michael Duncan, Design Partner, SOM
Eric Battino, Architect, SOM
Carrie Byle, Managing Partner, SOM
Jack Parker, Managing Partner, SOM
Michael Fukutome, Technical Designer, SOM
Nicole Seager, Project Coordinator, SOM
Keith Boswell, Technical Partner, SOM
Jeffrey Warren, Architect, SOM


Skidmore, Owings & Merrill – Lead Architect & Architect of Record
The Miller Hull Partnership
Patano Studio Architecture

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill – Structural Engineering
KPFF Consulting Engineers – Structural & Civil Engineering
Schlaich Bergermann Partner – Structural Engineering
Integrated Design Engineers – Structural Engineering
Magnusson Klemencic Associates – Civil Engineering
Arup – Comprehensive Airport Planning & MEPFP Engineers
Pielow – Fire Protection Engineer
FSI Engineers – Mechanical Engineer
Mazzetti – Electrical Engineer

Speciality Consultants
Arup – Acoustics
Argus – Hydrant Fueling
BNP Associates – Baggage Handling
BRC – Acoustics
Luma – Lighting
Lerch Bates – Vertical Transportation
Murase – Landscape Architect
O’Brien 360 – Sustainability and LEED
RWDI – Wind Tunnel Testing
Suehiro Architecture – Terminal Planning
Wacker – Wind Tunnel Testing
Design-Build Contractor
Clark Construction Group

Design-Build Engineers
PAE – Mechanical & Plumbing
Stantec – Electrical & Lighting

Project Narrative

Prior to the pandemic, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) experienced nine straight years of record-setting passenger growth, which the existing international facilities could not accommodate. The new International Arrivals Facility (IAF) at SEA replaces a 1970s-era facility with a dynamic structure nearly five times the size, expanding capacity and significantly speeding up the international arrivals process. The most complex building project in the airport’s history, the new IAF is a feat of both design and engineering, conceived as a series of surgical interventions in the existing airport fabric which cleverly add capacity and flexibility to the facility in a small footprint. Abutting an existing concourse on two sides (airside and landside) and constructed over an active airfield, the new facility more than doubles the airport’s international capacity, smoothly moving up to 2,600 international travelers per hour, with flexibility to accommodate changing passenger and transportation needs in the future.

Upon arrival at the airport, passengers are greeted by a 780-foot long aerial walkway—the longest of its kind in the world—over an active taxilane, 85 feet below. As travelers reach the IAF, they enter the soaring Grand Hall, a multi-level, 450,000 square foot light-filled space with an expanded baggage claim area and enhanced U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities, that includes new offices for their staff. A new secure international corridor along the face of the existing Concourse A can be configured to accommodate eight wide-body aircraft gates for international flights with direct access to the IAF, or easily switch for a greater number of narrow-body domestic aircraft, depending on air traffic and airline needs.

Delivered by a progressive design-build method, the collaborative architect-engineer-construction team was able to meet the airport’s ambitious goals to enhance the passenger experience, double capacity for international flights, and deliver the project with minimal disruptions to airport operations. As a major driver of the local economy, it took nearly three million labor hours to construct this facility, including nearly one million minority labor hours (35%), over 500,000 apprentice hours (19%), and more than 139,000 (5%) labor hours by women. The project cost was $986 million and was funded by a combination of the Airport Development Fund and future revenue bonds, rather than tax-payers.

Building Inspiration
The design marries the durability and complexity required for a high traffic civic building, with material warmth and pedestrian scale, drawing upon the palette of the Pacific Northwest. Arriving travelers are immediately immersed in stunning floor-to-ceiling vistas of Mount Rainier and the Olympic and Cascade mountains as they cross the aerial walkway, grounding them in their new location before they even leave the airport. A sweeping roof tilts and arcs to reflect the motion of a landing airplane, creating large windowed clerestories which bring natural light deep into the building that bounces off the polished finishes within. Cable trusses highlight the structural forces at play and echo the Port’s cranes on the Seattle waterfront.

Throughout the facility, local materials underscore the design’s connection to the region. An intricate topographical map of Mount Rainier welcomes visitors as they enter the IAF. Passengers then pass through a portal clad with Douglas fir entering the Grand Hall which features a terrazzo floor with local stones. As passengers depart, an exit path alongside a grove of evergreen trees culminates at ground level in a landscaped creek with native ferns and plantings nestled between granite slabs. Many of the material selections were sourced within 100 miles of SEA in keeping with the Port of Seattle’s commitment to environmental stewardship. Complementing the architecture, the art commissioned for the IAF includes “Magnetic Anomaly,” a set of three kinetic artworks created by Ned Kahn which spin in suspension over the Grand Hall. Artist Marela Zacarías drew inspiration from the San Juan Islands for “Chalchiutlicue,” a five-piece sculpture which floats above baggage claim carousels.

Building Integration
Passenger experience was paramount as both a design consideration and during the construction process. Design solutions sensitively nestled the IAF within the existing facilities while providing a world-class experience for international arrivals and vastly improving passenger connections. The design grounds the often-tiring experience of air travel in a thoughtful architecture which provides natural light, views to the natural world, and clarity of circulation. One of the biggest challenges was determing how to move passengers between the existing Concourse S and the new arrivals facility. After studying the possible routes (including the underground train that was previously used), the team came up with the idea to bring passengers across an aerial walkway. Spanning 780 feet, the walkway is now the longest structure spanning an active taxilane in the world, surpassing the previously held record by Gatwick Airport in London.

The 85-foot tall walkway is supported by a hybrid cable-stayed and king-post truss design. This configuration allowed for the center span of the bridge to be fabricated off-site and then hoisted into place, reducing impact on the active taxilane and airfield operations during construction. A true marriage of structural and architectural design, the walkway strengthens the passengers’ sense of movement as they approach the IAF, while providing a front-row seat to the cinematic landings at the airport and dramatic landscape of the region. The walkway is clad in white metal panels to match the surrounding building, and the escalator and structural supports are integrated into the design of the walkway, further underscoring the seamless connection to the existing concourse.

Environmental Sensitivity & Social Impact
To fulfill the Port’s mission of environmental stewardship and sustainability, this facility was designed with features that will ensure efficient and low impact operations for years to come. Low-flow restroom fixtures reduce indoor water use, low-energy LED lighting and energy-efficient escalator motors and variable speed motors on baggage handling devices are used throughout. The plentiful access to natural light has a secondary benefit of reinforcing post-flight circadian rhythms and reducing energy needs during the day. Environmentally conscientious construction practices included removing 7,163 tons of contaminated soil and 62,405 gallons of impacted stormwater from the site and diverting a staggering 92% of construction waste away from landfills. Many of the specified materials were sourced with environmental and human health transparency in mind.

By design, the IAF provides international visitors with their first impression of the United States and the architecture is designed to meet the gravity of this responsibility. Travelers experience natural light and materials alongside a faster, more efficient arrivals process that reduces connection times from 90 to 75 minutes. A core component of the expedited process is the CBP’s ‘Bags First’ arrivals process. SEA is the first large hub airport in the United States to roll out this streamlined entrance process which allows passengers to collect their baggage before speaking to an agent, simplifying the arrivals process. The number of passport check podiums more than doubled and the baggage claim carousels nearly tripled in size and number. With these state-of-the-art processes baked into the design, the IAF easily and efficiently guides passengers to their connecting flights or to ground transportation options.

Client Satisfaction
A project of this scale required partners being in lock-step at every phase. The Port of Seattle, design-build contractor, stakeholders, and consultants were in constant communication with the design team throughout the process. Stakeholders were identified from each group of airport teams to review the design packages at every milestone. The design was presented at Port Commission Hearings – a public venue for the community to provide feedback to the design team. To enable this high level of collaboration, the Port, contractor, architecture team and key design build trade engineers and designers colocated into a shared office, walking distance from the site, from validation to construction to completion. This allowed team members to review site conditions and conduct field reviews with Port stakeholders onsite.
The aerial walkway required an extremely high level of coordination between the landowner (the Port) and the airfield operators in order to minimize disruption to the airport’s operations during and after construction. The project was under construction during the pandemic and all CDC-recommended precautions were followed during that time. The design included many features such as multiple air changes, touchless fixtures and doorless entries into toilet rooms. This was further enhanced by features such as touchless toilet doors.