Canadian Architect


Interior Passages

A New Airport Expansion Takes Its Inspiration From the Rugged Qualities of the British Columbia Interior as Well as the Romance of Aircraft Design.

October 1, 2005
by Jim Taggart

Project Prince George Airport Expansion, Prince George, BC

Architect Mcfarlanegreen Architecture + Design Inc.

Text Jim Taggart

The events of September 11, 2001 have had wide-ranging repercussions for airline travel and airport operations throughout the world. In Canada, the need for increased government involvement and quality control in the security of passengers and baggage has been addressed in large part by the creation of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA). Among the new protocols introduced across North America was the requirement that by the end of 2004, all baggage loaded at large- and medium-sized airports should be subject to security screening. So began a national program to upgrade Canadian airports with new equipment and, where necessary, additional space.

This program was an unexpected windfall for the relatively small number of architectural firms that specialize in airport design. For Steve McFarlane and Michael Green who had worked together on airport projects with Architectura, it also provided the opportunity to branch out on their own, forming the firm mcfarlaneGreen Architecture + Design Inc. They hit the ground running in 2003, almost immediately securing the commission for the renovation and expansion of the Prince George Airport in northern BC. With a team of three, they managed the first phase of the project from a studio in Green’s backyard before taking on more staff and moving to larger premises a short bike ride away on the North Vancouver waterfront.

While the CATSA requirements that had initiated the project were largely technical and related to the enhanced security requirements for baggage screening, they also offered an opportunity to re-evaluate the existing facility in light of new operational demands. With the surrounding area increasing in popularity as a destination for international visitors, and growing in strategic importance as a commercial cargo centre, both the province and the newly privatized airport authority elected to contribute additional funds to expand and enhance the airport as a symbolic gateway to the region.

The project was increased in scope to incorporate expansion of the existing terminal to include a new departure lounge, international arrivals area, security screening area, baggage make-up room, support offices and renovations to the existing check-in hall and arrivals areas. While the prospect of adding a significant amount of new space enhanced the architectural potential of the project, it also increased the level of expectation in the community. The challenge now was to develop a design solution that would integrate new and existing parts of the building and at the same time capture the character and aspirations of the Prince George region.

mcfarlaneGreen chose to meet this challenge architecturally. Rather than taking the thematic approach, which is common in contemporary airport design– together with structural engineers Equilibrium Consulting Inc.–the architects have used structure, materials and transparency to enhance both the experience of air travel and the connection to place. Green admits that in some respects the task was made easier by the limited budget which precluded the provision of the passenger bridges that clutter up the airside elevation of most airports and obstruct views to the apron (the paved surface where aircraft stand when not in use) from the terminal building. However, through program organization and the careful design of interior partitions, it is possible for those entering the terminal from the land side to see through the building to the awaiting aircraft and even to catch a glimpse of the occasional bear emerging from the forests that fringe the airfield. Similarly, deplaning passengers approach the transparent curtain wall of the airside faade, and are immediately introduced to the qualities of structure and detail that give the building its unique character.

The high-performance, point-fixed curtain wall system (developed in Austria) is supported on custom steel castings of a shallow wishbone configuration. The button and rod connections penetrate only the inner pane of the double-glazed units preventing the cold bridging that would compromise performance in this extreme climate. The same castings have been used to support the roof by floating the ceiling above the beams, creating a concealed compartment for services.

Internally, the public areas of the building are organized around a central daylit spine that connects and unifies old and new portions of the building. An elegant system of glulam and steel portal frames lifts a continuous glass skylight above the surrounding flat roofs, bringing the pure clear northern light deep into the building. Mounted alternately on the east and west sides of the spine, bands of horizontal Douglas Fir sunscreens filter the light and create an ever-changing shadow play on the walls and floor of the concourse. As the position of the sun shades changes, so does the supporting structure: steel where the concourse abuts the original building, glulam where it adjoins the new structure. Thus a narrative unfolds that connects, both literally and figuratively, the present with the past.

Throughout the building, as befits a town long dependent on the lumber industry, wood is the dominant structural material. Appropriately, its use reflects the community’s own vision for the future, one that embraces stewardship, renewal, and a value-added use of the resource. The glulam columns that support the central skylight and the curtain wall in the arrivals area are milled to an elliptical cross-section on a state-of-the-art five-axis CNC machine which are then connected to the horizontal members by discrete and highly efficient tight-fit pins. The purity and elegance of the structure is further enhanced by the use of colourless polyurethane which eliminates the usual black lines between laminates that has long been characteristic of glulam construction.

Cladding and finish materials have been chosen for their economy and durability rather than for any intrinsic decorative value. However the careful detailing gives them an unexpected sense of quality. In particular, the baggage handling area, a dominant feature of the airside elevation (which in most airports is of rudimentary concrete block construction) is clad in a horizontal system of translucent polycarbonate planks mounted in extruded aluminum frames. For the three large vehicle doors, the architects devised a scissor configuration that in the open position creates a canopy for the opening, and in the closed position sits flush and virtually indiscernible within the overall taut skin. Providing ample natural light for workers during the day, the structure is a luminous box at night.

Through the innovative application of cost-effective technical solutions, mcfarlaneGreen’s judicious interventions have created a new sense of transparency and spatial definition. The elegance and economy of expression celebrate the precision of contemporary craftsmanship, like Busby Perkins + Will’s Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, or Peter Cardew’s Thompson Nicola Regional District headquarters. This new generation of buildings provides a welcome change from the primitive power of post-and-beam that has dominated architecture in BC’s hinterland for more than a century.

Client Prince George Airport Authority

Architect Team Vicki Brown, Amy Cheung, Michelle Counihan, Michael Green, Don Kasko, Steve Mcfarlane, Hozumi Nakai

Structural Equilibrium Consulting Inc.

Mechanical Keen Engineering Inc.

Electrical NRS Engineering Ltd.

Interiors Mcfarlanegreen Architecture + Design Inc.

Contractor Wayne Watson Construction

Project Management Acres International

Modelmaker Hamish Shaw

Area 35
,000 Ft2

Budget $9 Million

Completion Summer 2005

Photography Mcfarlanegreen Architecture + Design Inc.

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