When it opens in 2022, San Francisco International Airport’s Terminal 1 and Boarding Area B redevelopment will deliver a world-class travel experience through consolidated security check-in, 24 gates, and a spacious central concourse. All these amenities will be connected by integrated technology to facilitate the passenger journey, which is a key to supporting mass transportation trends. TEECOM designed Terminal 1’s security, telecom, audiovisual, network, and wireless systems, and provided IT project management. We sat down with Senior Design Engineer Rob Friend, RCDD, RTPM, and Design Engineer Paul Herget, ECSE, to discuss the challenges of technology infrastructure design for airports and talk about the future of tech and travel.
Paul Herget (PH): One of the biggest aspects of SFO’s business model is revenue generation, and a big part of that is keeping back-of-house functional operations out of leasable space. When we were brought on at SFO, we saw that customers would still need to be connected out in the storefront space, so our challenge was to provide that connection with the smallest impact on leasable space.
Traditionally, technology rooms look a certain way. For this project, we had to redefine the concept of a technology room to make them slimmer and more compact while still achieving the same function. We probably went through four or five different types of room designs, varying the size and components included.
Another part of the challenge was that the tech spaces needed to accommodate not only the needs of the airport today, but what could live out of that storefront five years from now. Three or four years ago, a lot of airlines didn’t have the self-service kiosks that are common today. What will the next three years bring?
We built in 100% expansion capacity so that we could cover double that amount of infrastructure capability. Currently the airport is pushing Wi-Fi coverage from the building envelope to the second curbside, so you can have Wi-Fi while you’re waiting for pick-up. This is an expansion of services just within the last two, three years, so we know the SFO staff is very sensitive to making sure we have the future capacity.
Rob Friend (RF): Another relevant challenge is how does your distribution room align with the architectural quality or uniqueness of the environment? We’re seeing more unusual shapes in transportation spaces… curves, squomes (square domes),and other architectural innovations. How do you align the requirements of your spaces with the revolutionary architectural designs? This requires alignment with the architect early in the project.
PH: For the SFO design particularly, we made a point of designing a long, narrow space that we could sneak in between columns at the exit vestibule. You have to work with the fact that the terminal’s a non-rectangular building and you’re designing everything on a curve. We were brought in at Design Development, and it was challenging to introduce the tech spaces at that point.
RF: Transportation facilities, whether they’re airports or bus hubs, are opportunities for pushing the envelope of architectural design. Architects want to do things that have never been done before. Cookie cutter IDFs (rooms for telecom cabling racks) aren’t going to cut it. The future of transportation is just going to get more radical. We’re going to see things we can’t even imagine. That’s going to mean getting involved in the planning stage.
PH: One thing that was made clear to me during my work on the Transbay Transit Center [while at a previous firm] is that technology really is a base building trade. It’s right up there with mechanical, structural, architectural, in terms of the necessity to bring us on as early as possible. At programming you often realize you’re going to need more technology infrastructure than you initially thought.
RF: Particularly for security. In the past, security was an afterthought. Now it is nearly one-third of what goes into the technology design. The security needs just keep creeping up.
PH: At the airport, security is a big item. Especially at checkpoints, where they’re doing a lot of 3D viewing cameras. The challenge is to make sure there’s coverage of a variety of viewpoints. Checkpoints are a highly regulated area as far as surveillance is concerned. The TSA and the airport both have their own equipment that goes to their own networks.
RF: And then building codes, which are sometimes at odds. The use of VR tools is going to become more important to deal with all these interwoven needs. We’ll see more use of 3D visioning tools during the design process in transportation projects. They’re complicated spaces that have a lot of competing interests… vendors, govt agencies, local agencies and demanding tenants. You need to be able to understand the 3D interaction of all the elements.
PH: Gensler created a VR walk-through of someone going through the ticket counter, checking in, to see what this person was seeing. There’s a definite desire to extend technology Wi-Fi and connectivity through that same footpath. That’s one of the big performance drivers at SFO uniquely over other airports, that desire to provide Wi-Fi service from foot on the ground to plane off the ground. The real dense design and targeted focus on making that an attractive service, is actually using those as part of the customer and user experience.