Rendering of interior of airport terminal with shops and people walking through; Rendering of interior of airport terminal with shops and people walking through;

IAH Terminal Redevelopment Program, Houston, Texas

Seamlessly delivering a multi-project redevelopment program to bring wide-reaching improvements to one of the nation’s busiest international terminals

Houston Airport System (HAS) is undertaking the most significant renovation in the history of the George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH). A $1.43bn multi-project redevelopment, the IAH Terminal Redevelopment Program (ITRP) takes on the challenging task of delivering an improved passenger experience, increased capacity, long lasting and efficient systems, flexibility for future expansion, and climate resilience for one of the US’ busiest international terminals, all while maintaining full operations and a competitive hub. 

To tackle the complex challenge of simultaneous, major projects across a single program, Arup was tapped by HAS to coordinate and manage the various initiatives and teams in order to deliver a unified outcome. From proposing a parallel construction plan and accelerating the timeline to strategically scheduling testing during times of reduced capacity, Arup successfully identified the solutions that would be key for an efficient and seamlessly collaborative approach.

The central project of this landmark revitalization program is the Mickey Leland International Terminal (MLIT), which integrates a full renovation of the existing International Terminal D with the construction of a new concourse, the D West Pier. This new concourse brings increased capacity through six new international widebody gates. The terminal will also gain a new “foreign-flags” checked baggage inspection system (FF CBIS) building, improving baggage handling capability and reliability. Despite already being the largest capital improvement project undertaken in the history of IAH, the ITRP does not simply target its completion date in 2024; it sets the airport up to function sustainably and flexibly over the next 15 years, creating the potential for future expansions as well. 

To support Fentress Architects’ work on the ITRP, Arup also provided consulting and multidisciplinary engineering services for the renovation of MLIT Terminal D and the construction of MLIT D West Pier as well as the FF CBIS. By delivering aviation planning, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) engineering, acoustic/public address consulting, and lighting design services, Arup contributed meaningfully to various components of this unprecedented and revitalizing effort for IAH.

Project Summary

6 flexible widebody international gates that can alternatively accommodate 10 narrowbody aircrafts

20%improved energy performance over baseline

70,000ft²new checked baggage facility

Maximizing carbon and time savings

To develop the new MLIT, the project team needed to combine the existing international terminal with a newly constructed concourse. The Arup team proposed a parallel construction schedule, coordinating and working on the renovation and the new build simultaneously to expedite the process.

This effort presented an opportunity to refresh outdated systems. Arup conducted an existing conditions assessment in addition to performing a lifecycle assessment of the MEP systems, with the recommendation to only replace systems with an estimated lifetime of less than ten years. The team identified and saved the properly functioning elements, thereby reducing costs and resource use. The decision to keep as much of the existing structure as possible contributed to major carbon savings for the project. When replacing the obsolete systems, including ceilings and lighting, air diffusers, and the acoustical system, Arup designed for longevity and ensured cohesion throughout the entirety of the new terminal.

The team also provided sustainability consulting to ensure the new construction meets the airport’s energy and sustainability goals of 20% energy savings and low energy use intensity.

© Houston Airport Systems

Designing for greater capacity and flexibility

While this significant update to the terminal is the largest since 1980, the airport will need to continue to shift and transform in the years to come. To meet the airport’s goal of increasing overall international travel capacity while improving the passenger experience, Arup helped implement flexible gates into the design of the new concourse. The six international widebody gates can “flex” to 10 narrowbodies, as four of the gates are multiple aircraft ramp system (MARS) gates. This means that they can convert from a single wide body gate to two narrowbody gates, allowing for a total of 10 narrowbody planes to be served at once.

An innovative checked baggage inspection system will be housed in a new 70,000ft2 building extension of Terminal D, vastly improving baggage handling capacity and reliability for the international terminal. The FF CBIS and MLIT also needed compatible systems. In addition to modifying the electrical design, Arup provided water, fire capacity, and engineering due diligence services to properly integrate them together.

In the renovated international terminal, Arup also relocated the main incoming service for the electrical systems from the basement to outside. In addition to centralizing service and increasing resilience against future flooding, this choice makes the overall airport system more flexible, allowing for additional expansion opportunities. MLIT will have the capacity for two additional concourses to be added in the future as Houston Intercontinental continues to grow as a hub for international travel.

The modernization of IAH and the new Mickey Leland International Terminal has required a truly multidisciplinary approach. Working closely with our client and partners, we devised innovative approaches and solutions to achieve this significant renovation that addresses the needs of the airport, passengers and stakeholders. From resilience to flexibility to energy efficiency, Arup is proud to have contributed to the improvement of many different spaces for IAH. ” Headshot of Hussein Moussa Hussein Moussa Associate Principal, Americas South Aviation Leader

Prioritizing passenger experience

Our team sought to ensure that the years-long construction and renovation work would not be disruptive. While COVID provided significant challenges to operations, we capitalized on the downturn in travel, modifying our schedule to significantly push the project forward and conduct strategic terminal testing while the airport saw fewer passengers. And while providing updates to the HVAC systems in gate piers in order to improve temperature control and thermal comfort, our team determined how to best do so while maintaining a suitable environment for travelers and employees.

Our team also helped to design and build a feature wall into the new terminal. With lighting that contributes to a calming environment and supports travelers’ natural circadian rhythm, this system greatly improves passenger experience.

The feature wall also displays movement and color transitions that correlate to the natural lighting conditions in Houston. Every hour, the wall displays a scene that follows the sun’s movement for 55 minutes. During the last five minutes, a plane can be seen taking off and landing, an ode to Houston’s culture of air travel and space exploration.

Arup provided a wide range of services to help the client meet their goals of enhancing passenger experience, increasing capacity, integrating modern and resilient systems, and identifying energy savings. The project team took on a dedicated approach to meeting these goals across multiple projects and initiatives, all while expediting the overall project timeline and avoiding any disruptions to the airport’s operations. 

Exterior of feature wall under construction with light glass panel pattern Exterior of feature wall under construction with light glass panel pattern