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SFO Airport Traffic Control Tower


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San Francisco International Airport


  • Design/Build Team: Hensel Phelps, Fentress Architects

Year Completed



5,652 sq. feet

Construction Cost

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Project Description


San Francisco International Airport (SFO), the “gateway to the Pacic,” is a world-class airport serving tens of millions of domestic and international passengers each year. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) determined that the current SFO Airport Trac Control Tower (ATCT), built in 1981, required replacement due to stricter seismic code requirements. Construction on
a new ATCT began in 2012; structural completion is anticipated in summer 2015; and the new tower will be operational by Fall 2016.

Located between Terminals 1 and 2, the new tower and base building complement the iconic features of SFO’s International Terminal, which opened in 2001. The tower ascends in a graceful are, topped by a cab that is oset from the central column. A ribbon of glass runs the vertical length of the tower, reflecting sunlight during the day and illuminated by interior lighting at night. The modern new tower is an elegant beacon for all those who come and go from San Francisco.

The base of the new structure includes a three-story facility building with both a pre-security corridor and a post-security walkway that conveniently connect Terminals 1 and 2. Skylights along the pre-security corridor oer passengers unobstructed views of the tower from inside the building. The tower and facility building are designed to withstand a magnitude 8.0 earthquake.


• The Integrated Facilities Building (IFB) is three stories high, totaling 44,000 square feet, and includes FAA administrative oce space, FAA electronic equipment, a roof garden, airport public circulation space and both public and FAA amenities.
• SFO’s new ATCT is the tallest vertical self-centering post tension concrete structure in the United States. There are 26 bundles of stainless steel cable, each one consisting of 19 cables per bundle and 7 strands per cable, that are post-tensioned to keep the 200-foot high concrete core in compression.
• Beneath the Tower and IFB there are 215 concrete auger pressure-grouted piles that average 140’ deep bearing on bedrock that support a massive concrete mat foundation.
• The concrete tower core is 30” thick at the base 18” thick at the top. The tower is structurally designed using two major criteria; seismic fluidity and wind stability, and is designed to remain operational after a magnitude 8.0 seismic event.
• Two viscous, steel-tuned mass dampers weighing approximately 37,400 lbs. each help counteract building motion to ensure comfort and accuracy for airport trac controllers.
• There are two stairwells in the tower and 343 steps from Level 1 up to the ATCT cab at the top.
• The control cab is 650 square feet and provides 13 airport trac controller stations.
• The tower cab roof structure is cantilevered from a (2’-2” x 3’-4”) center column built from 1 ½” thick steel plate. The column weighs 14 tons. Three (2’-0” x 1’-4”) landside columns hold the cantilevered roof in tension allowing the cab glass to have no intermediate support.
• The airport trac control cab windows are 1½” thick laminated glass and angle out 25 degrees from the sill. There are 24 panes of mullion-less glass (9’-0” tall x 5’-4” wide) at the widest point on top in the cab. The control cab has a 270° unobstructed view of the taxiways and runways.
• The west face of the tower will feature an LED backlit glass “waterfall” that stretches 147’ in the air and is a visual landmark from the airport and surrounding community.
• A visitor will have the ability to stand in the Pre-security Public Corridor at the base of the tower and look straight up the tower through the skylight glass roof to enjoy the LED light waterfall.
• The project is designed to achieve LEED Gold status from the United States Green Building Council. Features include high energy performance with natural daylight in oces and the public lobby; a roof garden; low-flow plumbing fixture; energy effiecient HVAC systems; LED lighting; electric vehicle charging stations; sustainably produced interior finish materials; and photovoltaic panels.
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