A warm welcome to the nation’s capital at Reagan National Airport

Washington, D.C., USA

On the south shore of the Potomac River, Reagan National Airport’s North Terminal is a light-filled civic space with inspiring views of the Capitol Dome and National Mall. Over a half-century since the original airport was built, our design creates a modern gateway to the nation’s capital and elevates operations at one of the country’s busiest airports. The North Terminal is a vibrant multimodal transit center, directly linking arriving and departing passengers to D.C.’s Metrorail, secured parking, and a variety of ground transport services.

“National Airport possesses scale, monumentality and civic dignity, all which of are rare enough among airports; rarer still is to see these qualities in combination with finesse, joie de vivre, and clarity.” — Paul Goldberger, Architecture Critic
The domes’ arched edges form a rhythmic cornice atop the long, low building, creating a modern sense of movement, but with a controlled, dignified geometry appropriate to DC’s Beaux-Arts architecture.
The exposed steel is painted a warm 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.

An oasis of tranquility within the frenetic whirl of air travel

Awash in warm yellow and cream tones with touches of blue, the North Terminal captures the radiance of the sun, making the space feel luminous and uplifting. The design is a modern evocation of Henri Labrouste’s 1868 reading room at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France — a striking structure composed of long spines with elegantly proportioned square bays, each topped by a shallow dome punctuated with an oculus. The dome is one of the most ancient symbols of shelter and also serves as a link to D.C.’s iconic civic architecture.

Upon arrival, travelers pass through the gates into the concourse and out to ground transportation without changing levels.
“Airports are places where people spend time and need to go through a series of complex transactions. The public spaces should be such that they don't contribute to the inherent stress of air travel. They should take your mind off your worries and transform your being there into a pleasant experience.” — Cesar Pelli, FAIA, RIBA, JIA

Public art ignites imagination and celebrates culture

In close collaboration with the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority, thirty-three commissioned artworks by award-winning artists are seamlessly integrated into the architecture of the concourse— in the floor, in the plaster walls, and on the glass curtain wall, balustrades, and stair railings. To unlock collaborative potential across artistic disciplines, we studied historic and contemporary alliances of painters, sculptors, artisans, and architects, and public art programs at the Rockefeller Center and St. Louis Train Station.

commissioned works of art

More About the Project

Project Team

Principal Collaborators

  • Architect of Record: Leo A. Daly
  • Structural Engineer: CBM Engineers
  • MEP: John J. Christie and Associates; Syska Hennessy Group

Project Information

  • Location: Arlington, Virginia, USA
  • Client: Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority
  • Size: 1,286,000 sq. ft. / 119,500 sq. m.
  • Completion: 1997
  • Firm Role: Design Architect


  • 2000, US Department of Transportation Honor Award
  • 1999, AIA New England Honor Award
  • 1998, New York Section of the Illumination Engineering Society, Lumen Award
  • 1998, Ceilings and Interior Systems Construction Association, First Place
  • 1998, AIA Connecticut, Design Award
  • 1993, Community Appearance Alliance, Honor Award
  • Principal Project Photography: Jeff Goldberg/ESTO