Terminal 1 at San Diego International Airport

The architectural façade and configuration of Terminal 1 at San Diego International Airport (SAN) is a memorable example of Brutalist Architecture; a style which emerged in the United Kingdom (UK) as part of the reconstruction of Europe and later spread to the United States. The Brutalist Architecture period ran from roughly the early 1960s through the 1970s when the International Style claimed dominance as the preferred style for civic and public buildings. 

Terminal 1 was built around the same time as Eero Saarinen’s iconic TWA Terminal at JFK and it’s reminiscent of other international terminals such as Berlin Tegel International Airport, Kansas City International (KCI) and Dallas Fort Worth International (DFW). The entry is most noted for its large post tensioned concrete waffle slab: a unique construction type floating on slender dendriform, or tree like columns, which were most likely influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright (Johnson Wax Headquarters) or various other architects who used this rare construction type for support and effect.

The original façade and entrance were reminiscent of a floating roof, but alterations to the façade as well as curtain wall modifications and additions during 2008 began to erode the effect.

Terminal 1 was designed at the dawn of commercial aviation and before jet bridges. The original “boomerang” plan with rotundas was in direct response to the ease of parking aircraft on a diameter, however the space needed for increased passenger seating, restrooms and amenities ultimately made a rotunda configuration less preferable for subsequent terminal facilities at SAN and across the globe.

In conclusion, there were three notable elements of Terminal 1's characteristics that allowed the facility to serve the travelling public from 1967 to the present:

  1. The unique “boomerang” configuration allowing passengers to gather outside on departure and arrival in a “forecourt” below the large waffle slab supported by thin “tree like” columns. The waffle slab provided “texture” to the exterior—an inviting element to what essentially was a large canopy for solar shade on the south façade. This forecourt allowed for the adaptation of outdoor check-in by Southwest Airlines, a tribute to its original intent as a gathering place. 
  1. The simplicity of the structural grid formation down the passenger concourse to the rotundas allowed multiple alterations and additions over many years. It was a modular and flexible terminal. The choice of a large roof supported by individual columns allowed the exterior curtain wall to have complete flexibility for modifications. This was unusual at the time for new airport terminals and showed sensitivity and understanding by the original architects.
  2. The particularly thoughtful layout of east and west ticket lobbies with centralized bag claim and concessions. As a single level facility, this was extremely effective for passenger circulation and wayfinding and allowed for exceptional flexibility in modifications to all three functions over its lifespan.

Rarely in aviation do facilities such as Terminal 1 succeed in serving the traveling public so effectively. The terminal has handled an extraordinary increase in passenger volumes over the years. Due to its configuration and modular design, Terminal 1 has adapted well to changing needs.