Houston Airport System (HAS) is undertaking the most significant renovation in the history of the George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), and Arup was asked to add our expertise to the redevelopment.

A $1.43bn project, the IAH Terminal Redevelopment Program (ITRP) sets out to deliver an improved passenger experience, increased capacity, long lasting, efficient systems, flexibility for future expansion, and increased climate resilience at one of the US’s busiest international terminals. All this will be done with the terminal operating as a live transport hub. 

To manage this complex challenge, Arup was asked by the HAS to coordinate the entire project. We started by identifying the process necessary for a seamlessly efficient approach, including a parallel construction plan to accelerate build and testing at times of reduced capacity.

The goal of this landmark project was to revitalise the Mickey Leland International Terminal (MLIT), renovating the existing International Terminal D and building a new concourse. The D West Pier will offer increased capacity with six new widebody gates and a new “foreign flags” checked baggage inspection system (FF CBIS) building to improve baggage handling capacity and reliability. The largest capital improvement project ever undertaken by IAH, the ITRP will create a sustainable, flexible terminal with the potential for future expansion far beyond the completion date of 2024.

Arup supported Fentress Architects, providing consulting and multidisciplinary engineering services for the terminal renovation and the construction of MLIT D West Pier and the FF CBIS. By delivering aviation planning, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) engineering, acoustic/public address consulting, and lighting design services, Arup significantly contributed to revitalising IAH.

Maximising carbon and time savings

To develop MLIT our project team needed to combine the existing terminal and the new concourse. We proposed a parallel construction schedule, coordinating work on the renovation and new build simultaneously. 

This approach presented an opportunity to upgrade any outdated systems. We started by conducted an existing conditions and lifecycle assessment of the MEP systems, with the recommendation to only replace those with an estimated lifespan of under ten years. The team identified properly functioning elements to reduce costs and resource use, contributing to major carbon savings for the project. When replacing obsolete ceiling, lighting, air diffusion and acoustic systems, we designed for longevity and cohesion throughout.

Our team also provided sustainability consulting to meet the airport’s 20% energy saving and low intensity energy goals.

Designing for greater capacity and flexibility

The update is the largest since 1980 and allows the airport to continue to transform in the future. To meet the goals of increased international travel capacity and an improved passenger experience, Arup helped implement flexible gates in the new concourse. The six gates now “flex” by using multiple aircraft ramp system (MARS) gates, converting single widebody gates to two narrowbody gates to allow 10 planes to be served at once.

An innovative checked baggage inspection system will be housed in a new 70,000ftbuilding, vastly improving baggage handling capacity and reliability. The FF CBIS and MLIT needed compatible systems, with Arup modifying the electrical design and providing water, fire, and engineering due diligence services to properly integrate them.

In the terminal we relocated the main electrical feed from the basement to the exterior. Centralising services and increasing resilience against future flooding makes the airport more flexible and creates additional expansion opportunities. The MLIT project allows for two additional concourses to be added in the future as the airport continues to grow as an international hub.

Prioritising the passenger experience

Avoiding disruption was key to our delivery. With COVID posing significant challenges, we used the downturn in travel to modify our schedule, pushing forward to conduct strategic terminal testing as the airport welcomed fewer passengers. Our team updated HVAC systems in gate piers for improved temperature control and comfort while maintaining a suitable environment for all users.

We also helped design and build a stunning feature wall in the terminal, using lighting to create a calming environment that supports natural circadian rhythms to greatly improve the passenger experience.

The wall lighting changes hourly with the daylight in Houston, displaying a scene that follows the sun for 55 minutes and showing a plane taking off and landing for the last five minutes as tribute to Houston’s air and space exploration heritage.

Arup provided extensive services to enhance the passenger experience, increasing capacity, integrating modern resilient systems, and identifying energy savings. With a dedicated approach to meeting these goals across multiple projects and initiatives, our team expedited the project timeline and avoided disruption to normal operations.