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Creating First Impressions through Airport Design

By Matt Needham, AIA, DBIA, Director of Aviation + Transportation at HOK

Airports are more than just travel hubs. They reflect the values and aspirations of the people who live, work and play in a community. At HOK, we strive to give voice to the cultural richness and diversity of communities—and the celebration of travel—through our airport designs.

The New SLC, Salt Lake City International Airport’s Terminal Redevelopment Program designed by HOK, showcases Utah’s unique culture and breathtaking landscapes in a modern, sustainable way. It’s the first new U.S. hub airport built this century and is replacing three aging facilities in a multi-phase project.

Salt Lake City International Airport Redevelopment Program - Bruce Damonte Photography

Recognized by The Salt Lake Tribune as the 2023 Utahn of the Year, Salt Lake City International Airport is more alive than ever, honoring Utah’s natural beauty and creating a strong sense of place for the millions of visitors traveling through the airport each year.

SLC’s new passenger terminal celebrates Utah as an outdoor recreation destination. Inside the atrium, a stunning sculpture by artist Gorden Huether evokes the state’s dramatic red-rock canyons, alpine peaks, cottony white clouds and moving water. Orange, blue, purple and yellow lights splash across the sculpture, which is made of hundreds of tensile membrane ‘fins’.

Salt Lake City International Airport Interior Atrium - Bruce Damonte Photography

Fifty-foot, floor-to-ceiling windows within the interior atrium, known as “The Canyon,” draw in daylight and provide passengers with views overlooking the airfield and Wasatch Mountains. A large bench in the middle of the atrium resembles the mountain ranges found throughout Utah.

50-ft. Windows at Salt Lake City International Airport - Bruce Damonte Photography

The airport’s earth-toned, naturally derived interior and exterior finishes pay homage to Salt Lake City’s Western locale. Intuitive wayfinding, signage and branding express the region’s adventurous spirit while helping travelers navigate through the airport. Numerous retail, food and beverage options throughout the concourses highlight Salt Lake City’s homegrown businesses.

Vibrant Murals and Wayfinding at Salt Lake City International Airport - Bruce Damonte Photography

The airport is currently constructing the Central Tunnel, which will connect travelers between Concourses A and B. Known as the River Tunnel, it will provide an immersive traveler experience through artwork representing the erosion process that created Utah’s slot canyons.

Beyond showcasing the area’s geological features and local businesses, the design reflects Utah’s friendly spirit. A post-security greeting room gives travelers space to reconnect with their loved ones in a warm and welcoming environment. Plush furnishings, museum artwork and a fireplace reinforce the living room feel.

As SLC continues to set records for its passenger growth, the new airport’s design uniquely represents Utah and positions Salt Lake City for economic growth. Its strong first impression welcomes and guides travelers to the Crossroads of the West.
Matt Needham, AIA, DBIA, is a leader of HOK’s global Aviation + Transportation practice. Based in San Francisco, his recent projects include overseeing all aviation planning and design for the multibillion-dollar new Salt Lake City International Airport.