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Jet Setting
Expanded Tom Bradley Terminal by Fentress Architects opens at LAX.
Ocean waves inspired the terminal's form.
Jason A. Knowles

Once upon a time, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) was considered the transportation hub of the future, packed with gleaming new terminals centered around the Space Age–inspired Theme Building, bursting out of the ground like a white concrete spider. That was about 50 years ago. Since then, with a few exceptions, it’s been pretty much downhill. Until now.

Fentress Architects’ new $1.9 billion addition to the airport’s Tom Bradley International Terminal is a surprisingly soaring testament to the awe-inspiring, hopeful spirit of flight. Although it’s reserved mostly for jet set international flyers, the terminal is nonetheless the grand space that the airport has long been lacking.

The terminal’s curving, grey steel roofline, inspired by waves breaking on the Pacific coastline, pops up behind the original Tom Bradley Terminal, which was recently given a $723 million renovation by Leo A Daly.

Sam LuBell / AN

The 110-foot-tall great hall is the interior’s centerpiece, with its series of white arches and giant white vaults. Natural light streams into the space through large windows and clerestories, illuminating the 150,000 square feet of retail and dining. The retail facilities, designed by Montalba Architects, have a modern aesthetic, with woven metallic canopies at ground level and a stacked series of mezzanine spaces stepping upward toward the top floor. The inspiration for the space seems to be a mix of The Jetsons and Prada.

In its entirety, the new facility—including the concourses, security facilities, 18 gates, glassy light wells (one of which is still awaiting its Ball-Nogues installation), and more retail—measures 1.2 million square feet, doubling the space of the existing Tom Bradley Terminal. The many arches and overhangs and vaults and entryways across the variety of levels keeps passengers’ eyes in constant motion. A series of interactive displays designed by Canadian company Moment Factory adds to the visual barrage. These include an 80-foot LED “Welcome Wall” that greets visitors with soothing videos, two “Concourse Portals” consisting of 10 video columns that respond to movement, and the 72-foot “Time Tower,” a four-sided LED extravaganza surrounding the terminal’s main elevator.

Jason A. Knowles

Of course, most projects of this scope include corner cutting, and LAX did demand serious value engineering, said Fentress principal Curtis Fentress. But overall he was happily surprised with the airport’s commitment. In fact, once officials started to grasp the scope of what was being built they started asking for “more, more, more.” Hence the original scope increased, as did the original $1.4 billion price tag. Fentress, it should be noted, has become the country’s airport architect du jour, completing recent facilities in Denver, Sacramento, San Jose, Raleigh-Durham, and Seattle-Tacoma. The firm’s next project is a control tower in San Francisco.

And for those who complain that LAX is still a mess despite this terminal, there seems to be good news on the horizon. The airport’s capital improvements program budget is $4.1 billion, including a new central utility plant, an update to terminal 6 (also by Fentress), several more terminal renovations (2,3,4,5,7, and 8), and the recent restoration of the Theme Building. Perhaps the most noticeable change opened concurrently with the new Tom Bradley Terminal: AECOM’s roadway enhancements, including new LED light ribbons above roadways, Y-shaped light poles, and perforated metallic canopies.

Sam Lubell