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Orlando International Airport’s new Terminal C: Welcome to the future


Curtis Fentress tells us more about Orlando International Airport’s new 1,800 million square foot, $2.8 billion Terminal C.

Last year, Florida’s Orlando International Airport (MCO) ranked among the world’s top ten busiest airports for the first time. This year it will open phase one of a new Terminal C, which has been decades in the making.

Phase one will expand MCO’s capacity by 12 million passengers annually; and at full build-out, Terminal C will be capable of serving as many as 60 million passengers annually.

Terminal C Master Plan

In 2013, airport officials unveiled their plans for a new Terminal C and with it, the ability to grow incrementally and, ultimately, exceed the capacity of the North Terminal.

The North Terminal opened in 1981 with two satellite concourse and the ability to serve 12 million passengers. Over the past four decades, the terminal has steadily expanded and been modified and, at full build-out in 2000, it comprised a central passenger terminal and four satellite concourses housing more than 90 gates.

The North Terminal has been serving in excess of 40 million passengers per annum for five of the past six years, which intensified the need for the Terminal C.

Orlando has a distinct advantage over its peers when it comes to growing both airside and landside capacity as it is among the world’s largest airports by land mass with only King Fahad in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, and Denver and Dallas/Fort Worth in the US boasting bigger sites.

While initial studies looked at replicating the North Terminal’s satellite concourse configuration, planners ultimately chose a linear/pier configuration for Terminal C because it minimises transit times for departing passengers (in this case to an average of eleven minutes), is easier to expand incrementally, and offers greater flexibility for international arrivals.

Incidentally, it is also a superior configuration during health crises because it allows passengers to disperse more easily (and eliminates the need to congregate for boarding and transit to gates).

Terminal C Phase One

The new Terminal C will support growing passenger volumes and reinforce the airport’s reputation for overall excellence in traveller satisfaction. It will also showcase the next generation of ‘The Orlando Experience’, which builds upon the established MCO aesthetic of air, water and sky to also deliver a seamless, low-touch environment complete with an exciting combination of concessions, interactive media displays and iconic architecture.

As design architect, we at Fentress Architects – together with HNTB which served as the architect of record – designed Terminal C to be an iconic gateway to the entire region.

Among the terminal’s signature architectural elements is The Prow, which sets an uplifting tone at kerbside, especially when seen against a dramatic Florida sky.

The ambient natural light flowing in from this kerbside curtainwall, as well as from the terminal’s skylit spine, help bring the outdoors inside and guide passengers to world-class amenities and then on to their gate.

All major building elements – ticketing, security, concessions, gates and baggage claim – are aligned along the Boulevard, which leads passengers on a linear journey. This Boulevard is adorned with a Grand Skylight that introduces dappled daylight and supports lush foliage.

The Boulevard also connects the terminal’s two signature civic spaces, Palm Court and Town Square, with MCO’s Intermodal Terminal Facility.

Palm Court is located airside, at the terminus of The Boulevard skylight. As the grandest of the terminal’s civic spaces, this vibrant location features shopping, experiential media, dining, socialising and relaxation lounges in a daylit, garden-like atmosphere.

Second-storey retail and lofted airline clubs are designed to overlook Palm Court and its experiential media element, which feature animated, interactive environments that encourage engagement as travellers pass by.

Meanwhile, Town Square is located landside, at the terminus of an elevated international arrivals corridor. This light-filled, spacious arrivals hall on the terminal’s upper-most level provides a stark contrast to the buried baggage claims found in so many other airports.

It is imbued with a sense of welcoming and openness that enhances the international and domestic passenger experience.

With the help of recently developed baggage conveyance technology, the traditional paradigm of arrivals on the lower level and departures on the upper level are reversed in Terminal C.

Passengers arriving – often from long flights – will be directed to a unique and uplifting experience: the upper-most level of the terminal.

Awash in filtered Central Florida sunlight with majestic views of the local natural environment, this immediate and immersive experience will at once orient travellers to both Orlando and the United States. Easy access to restrooms and concessions, in a pleasant environment, will further cater to travellers’ needs.

“Innovation and sophisticated design that reflect elements of the Central Florida community combine to deliver a world-class travel experience,” says Kevin Thibault, CEO of Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.

“Terminal C will be so much more than a transfer point from one place to another. It will serve as a multimodal, memorable entryway for passengers visiting, living and working in the region.”

Departing travellers will have a similarly pleasant experience with everything from intuitive parking and drop-off areas to a new ticketing hall designed for flexibility and outfitted with kiosks and outstanding customer service representatives. Security is designed to be similarly intuitive, orderly and responsive.

Many design strategies have been employed to help the terminal be as sustainable as possible. Strategies include the deployment of reduced water-consumption and irrigation systems, responsive lighting and temperature control systems, solar panels, and the use of non-toxic adhesives and non-painted natural materials.

In fact, the US Green Building Council is expected to award this building at least LEED Silver certification, and if it does, Terminal C will become the first LEED®v4 airport campus in the world.

Experiential media environment

Experiential Media Environments (EME) are seamlessly integrated into the terminal’s architecture. Indeed, three EME elements serve to celebrate the region’s dynamic identity and highlight for visitors the robust offerings of Central Florida’s natural and developed attractions:

– Moment Vault

Located in Palm Court, it offers departing passengers a 360-degree immersive experience that combines silhouettes gathered from strategically placed cameras located throughout the space with striking video footage from local points of interest.

Highlights in the 23 capsules that run for 109 minutes include underwater play in deep blue springs with a school of bioluminescent fish and an excursion to the surface of Mars where red rocks have a life of their own.

– Windows on Orlando

Located along the airside concourse, is a 100-foot-long, 32-foot-tall display comprised of three adjacent, panoramic screens. Select Central Florida locations were captured in 20 capsules that run for 79 minutes.

Highlights include a rocket launch sequence filmed from the NASA Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center and an afternoon ride under open skies to round up cattle with cowhands at the Deseret Ranch in St Cloud.

– The Portal

Located in Town Square (also known as the Arrivals Hall), rises three-stories high and is comprised of 32 custom curved screens suspended in a helical frame.

Synchronised content plays on both interior and exterior screens, offering 26 capsules that run for 125 minutes and tell a visual story of the transformation of Central Florida from natural springs and ranchlands to the dawn of Disney, the launch into space exploration and a bounty of entertainment opportunities.

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