Raleigh-Durham International Airport’s Reimagined Terminal 1 Connects Passengers to the Local Community

Our team at Clark Nexsen began the design process by taking full advantage of one characteristic the building offered: a large interior volume. We immediately realized that the renovation would be as much about the building section as it would be about the plan configuration. We seized upon the opportunity of creating a grand, daylit hall on the landside, extending from one end of the building to the other. To achieve this vision, the building was stripped down to its structure and completely re-clad. The grand space is interrupted only at its center by the second-floor-level TSA screening facility. The ceiling plan above carries consistently from end to end. Functions included on the ground level are ticketing; baggage claim; and back-of-house activities, such as baggage handling, screening, and airport and airline operations.

The renovated Terminal 1 received LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, Washington, D.C. Sustainability was a factor in Raleigh-Durham International Airport’s decision to renovate the existing terminal.

The renovated Terminal 1 received LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, Washington, D.C. Sustainability was a factor in Raleigh-Durham International Airport’s decision to renovate the existing terminal.


This large landside hall is filled with natural light. Daylight is direct and diffused owing to a combination of a glass curtainwall and light-transmitting translucent fiberglass panels. At night, the space glows like a giant lantern on the airport landscape.

On the second level, in addition to TSA screening, the concourse runs the length of the building, connecting hold rooms and organizing a variety of retail shops and food services. Clarity of circulation is important here, so signage was carefully considered and integrated into the architecture of the space.

Similar to the landside façade, the airside façade also was stripped down to its structure. New cladding consists of insulated metal panels and glass curtainwall, which provides expansive views of the airfield from hold rooms and restaurant seating areas. This access to daylight and views is in marked contrast to the dark pre-renovation condition. Glare and heat gain are controlled by fixed aluminum sunscreens and sensor-controlled operable window shades.

Differences in ceiling materials and configurations were used to help differentiate between adjacent spaces. For example, the lower ceiling in the concourse stops short of the concourse wall. The ceiling in the hold rooms “bends” and slopes upward toward the airside curtainwall. Both conditions provide visual interest and carefully integrate lighting.

Thoughtful Specification

RDU airport representatives’ challenge to the design team was clear: reimagine the terminal with the goal of transforming the passenger experience.

RDU airport representatives’ challenge to the design team was clear: reimagine the terminal with the goal of transforming the passenger experience.

Owing to the sheer number of travelers moving through an airport terminal, careful consideration is demanded of finish selections. Durability is a key consideration, particularly for floor and wall surfaces. In Terminal 1, walls are clad with high-impact panels. These panels are clip supported and, if damaged, can easily be replaced. Base throughout the building is stainless steel.

The majority of flooring in the terminal is carpet. It is understood that it has a limited lifespan and will eventually be replaced. It was, nonetheless, a very important design decision. Working directly with carpet manufacturers, we custom designed a high-traffic carpet pattern. The linear pattern uses a range of colors one might expect to see in vintage flight-attendant uniforms. Because of the manufacturing process, the carpet is not made in tiles. Custom large-scale “tiles” were created by having the 12-foot-wide rolls cut into 12-foot squares. These oversized “tiles” were then laid in the large open spaces in a staggered pattern, creating a unique application of a custom carpet.

Stairs, elevators and escalators are consistently detailed in stainless steel. Stair treads are dark-gray basalt stone, and railings are tempered glass and stainless steel. Vertical circulation is particularly prone to wear and abuse. The choice of stainless steel was made to minimize this impact.

PHOTOS: © Mark Herboth

About the Author

Jeffrey S. Lee
Jeffrey S. Lee, FAIA, is a nationally recognized architect and design advocate whose work has been honored with more than 50 AIA design awards. Based in Washington, D.C., Lee is a principal and design director of architecture and engineering firm Clark Nexsen.

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