In 1998, the Houston Airport System (HAS) embarked on a multi-phased program to upgrade an aging William P. Hobby Airport to contemporary standards of functionality and passenger service. HAS commissioned Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, Inc. (LAN) and its parent company LEO A DALY as prime designer and architect-of-record to renovate and expand the terminal building.
The $270 million project, which includes approximately 640,000 square feet of renovation and new construction, features a new 25-gate central concourse, an expanded and renovated central ticketing terminal, enhanced baggage claim facilities, additional concession areas, support spaces and curbside check-in facilities. Other infrastructure improvements include extension of aprons, taxi lanes and taxiways, replacement of building systems with energy-efficient equipment as well as technology upgrades for airport communications systems. As part of the project, the three existing concourses encompassing nearly 180,000 square feet were also demolished.
To develop a design that was not only functional but also aesthetically pleasing to the nine million passengers passing through Hobby’s doors every year, LEO A DALY collaborated closely with HAS, the city of Houston, Southwest Airlines and Hobby Airport executives and staff. To maintain the airport’s identity, designers retained most of the original Texas limestone façade in the new terminal. Arriving passengers are greeted with the façade of the 1950s terminal and an airplane sculpture resembling an oil-well pump jack to remind them of Hobby’s aviation heritage and the importance of oil in the Houston economy. A spacious, open lobby with soaring roofs houses the ticketing and security areas. Skylights and floor-to-ceiling windows fill the terminal with natural light and provide dramatic views to the airside. Consisting primarily of glass and exposed steel trusses and girders, the terminal provides a sense of contemporary design and grandeur to the passengers while maintaining an intimate scale. The new 25-gate concourse has a striking wing-shaped architecture that evokes memories of the test planes of the 1960s.
The Hobby Airport design is also noteworthy for its simplicity and intuitive wayfinding systems. Clear sightlines, views to the airside, concentrated amenities on the right-hand side of the concourse, separated enplaning and deplaning passenger flows as well as a simple street-type gate numbering system enable passengers to move seamlessly to the different areas of the airport, minimizing cross flow.
The airport also features an impressive art program that enhances its appeal as a gateway to the city. At the airport boulevard, travelers are welcomed by a huge stainless steel bird’s nest sculpture by Paul Kittelson and Carter Ernst. A large, suspended metal and acrylic panel sculpture installation by Luca Buvoli, which represents the contrail generated by a man flying with open arms, attracts exiting passengers to the deplaning level. Six 12-by-20-foot art glass pieces by Gordon Huether, composed of abstracted imagery from aerial photographs of Houston and the surrounding region, adorn the glass walls of the connecting bridge.
Another prominent aspect of the Hobby improvements is the relocation and expansion of concession areas. Before the project started, the few concessions the airport had were mostly located on the non-secure side of the airport. Passenger profile studies determined that the optimal location for the majority of concessions was in the concourse beyond the security checkpoint. As such, four different concession core areas were incorporated into the concourse with each offering a number of food, beverage and retail shops. The expanded and relocated concessions have significantly increased Hobby’s revenue. According to a new customer service study, 69 percent of passengers spend an average of $16 on food, beverages and retail.