The South Terminal Redevelopment Program aims to reinvent the way Denver International Airport (DIA) connects to the city — providing travelers a swifter gateway to downtown Denver — while turning the airport into a travel destination.


The airport is one of the busiest in the world, with more than 50 million passengers. With a footprint twice the size of Manhattan, it’s always had room to grow. Now city officials are gearing up for the most ambitious expansion in the airport’s short history—a south terminal that will add a new 510-room hotel, a civic plaza the size of a football field, and a train hall linking a commuter rail line from the airport to downtown.


The South Terminal Redevelopment Program has not been without its challenges, though—not the least of which was the involvement of Spanish architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava, who was selected as the master plan consultant by the project’s master planner, engineering, and construction firm, Pasadena, Califorinia-based Parsons.


Calatrava was also tapped to design the train hall and civic plaza, while the global architecture firm Gensler was selected to design the hotel. As the project progressed from conceptual design to schematic design, the airport reduced the budget from an estimated $650 million to a more realistic $500 million.


The cuts reduced the project’s overall square footage from about 1 million sq ft to 700,000 sq ft. The hotel rooms got a little slimmer. The train station, which showed four tracks in early renderings, was trimmed to two. A signature Calatrava bridge intended for the rail line was scrapped. And it was the cuts that apparently drove Calatrava off the project.


After Calatrava officially left the project, Gensler was chosen to take over and basically began anew, keeping only its own dimple-shaped hotel. The new version will rest on a five-story podium that will likely be clad in textured limestone to evoke the feeling that the base of the project is growing out of the earth.


The sections housing the guest rooms will emerge above as a glasslike object.  But the real novelty of the DIA expansion is the integration of so many disparate elements: train station, hotel, civic plaza, and airport. It starts with the train hall, which will be spanned by a 300 ft grid-shell structure overlaid with glass.


The hall will provide access not only to the hotel—through a remote, ground-floor lobby—but to the civic plaza a few floors up and, of course, to a security checkpoint for travelers catching a flight. The centerpiece of the project is the large civic plaza that is to be situated between the existing Jeppesen Terminal and the new hotel, with connections to the train hall below.


As wide and long as a football field, the plaza will connect the terminal and hotel, pass beneath the hotel and emerge on the other side. The city hopes the plaza becomes not just a large windswept space where people can relax between flights but a major public space, fit for concerts, festivals, art shows.


Slated for 2015 completion, the airport seeks to improve passengers’ travel experience before they take flight and after they land. While the train line won’t open to revenue service until 2016, the train hall will be finished 2014.




Location: Denver, USA

Enabling elements, including excavation and utility relocation: Kiewit, CMGC

Responsible for constructing the hotel and Public Transit Center: MHS (Mortenson, Hunt, Saunders) A Tri-Venture, the CMGC

Program Management: Parsons Transportation Group

Gross Square Footage: approximately 730,000 square feet, not including the plaza

Cost: $ 500 million

Year: 2013

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