The Denver International Airport (DEN) Passenger Terminal is more than a travel hub serving as the fifth busiest airport in the United States; it is also a distinctive landmark for Colorado and the Western US. When the terminal opened to the public in 1995, its design stimulated a paradigm shift in the way architects and the public perceive airport design. The era of the airport as a city’s gateway officially began, inspiring the architecture of airports worldwide with designs symbolic of their local context.
Reimagining the terminal archetype, we relocated the building’s mechanical system from the roof to underground and designed the world’s largest structurally integrated, Teflon-coated tensile-membrane structure at the time of completion. This solution not only significantly decreased cost and time, it also set the stage for the building’s memorable form.
Inspired by patterns and materials native to the Rocky Mountain region, the terminal’s peaked roof forms rise 130 to 150 feet, evoking a sense that one has stepped into the snowcapped mountains that influenced the architecture. The terminal soars from a solid stone-like base to become an expansive pavilion that instills a strong sense of place in visitors and locals alike.
Entering the terminal, passengers experience the expansive space enclosed under a sculpted roof reminiscent of Colorado’s dynamic landscape. Daylight illuminates the interior through the translucent material, providing a highly visible measure of natural light throughout the terminal. Glass skylights punctuate the fabric roof’s mast tops while triangular clerestory windows on the east and west, and expansive glass curtain walls on the north and south, encompass the Great Hall to create a seamless link between the inside and outside. An intuitive circulation pathway guides passengers throughout the airport to create a comforting, worry-free experience.