Reagan National Airport, North Terminal

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Washington, DC, USA
1 million square feet / 93,000 square meters
1997

With the North Terminal of Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects created a new gateway to the nation’s capital, a public place that is welcoming and functional, with architecture that aspires to the ideals embodied in the city’s urban plan.

National Airport is situated on the southwest side of the Potomac River, in direct view of the Capitol Dome and the National Mall. The focus of the new terminal is a long steel-and-glass concourse formed from two rows of square bays topped by shallow domes. Each dome has a large oculus, reminiscent of the Jefferson Memorial just upriver. From afar, the arched edges of the domes form a rhythmic cornice atop the long, low building, creating a sense of movement, but with a controlled, dignified geometry appropriate to Washington’s beaux-arts architecture. Inside, the concourse is light-filled and airy. The exposed steel is painted pale yellow, and the long façade parallel to the airfield and the river is filled with a delicate glass curtain wall that opens the hall to the bright eastern light.

Coming by car or from the adjacent Metrorail station, passengers proceed past the ticket counters and descend onto the concourse. The broad glass wall affords views of the runways, river, and city. Arriving by plane, passengers can walk from the gates, into the concourse, and out to the parking structures without changing levels.

The concourse is the “main street” of the terminal, lined with shops, eateries, and airport services. Thirty site-specific artworks, many by internationally-renowned artists, are integrated into the architecture of the concourse in such locations as the floor, the glass curtain wall, balustrades, stair rails, and plaster walls. Individual works were executed in a variety of materials including stained glass, marble and glass mosaic, terrazzo, cast bronze, hammered aluminum and copper, painted steel, porcelain enamel, and paint on board and canvas.