Gateway to the Holy Land

For seasoned road warriors, travel through most airports—even international—can be a rather mundane experience. Of course, much of this depends on one's destination and purpose—business, pleasure or pilgrimage. But for those journeying to Israel for the latter, the trip tends to be more exciting and often dramatic.


For seasoned road warriors, travel through most airports—even international—can be a rather mundane experience. Of course, much of this depends on one's destination and purpose—business, pleasure or pilgrimage. But for those journeying to Israel for the latter, the trip tends to be more exciting and often dramatic. To compliment this emotional experience, Israel's new Terminal 3 at Ben Gurion Airport features long ceremonious corridors, a feeling of connectivity to the land, including beautiful views of the Judean Mountains and—given the region's volatile nature—the highest of security measures.

Unquestionably, to call the massive $1 billion, 2.9-million-sq.-ft. endeavor complex is an understatement. But the Israel Airport Authority (IAA) was well aware of the possible complications and wisely decided to spread out the risk by hiring four separate building teams—one for the landside terminal, another for the airside terminal, a third for the parking garage/roadways and yet another for its energy plant.

Such a colossal effort, indeed, evoked thoughts of the Tower of Babel. "To make sure that the vocabulary of the entire facility was the same, the project had to be managed well—to look as if it was designed by one architect," explains Hamid Kia, AIA, SOM, New York, one of the lead architects for the landside team.

"I don't think there was a single part of this project where there weren't three ways people wanted things to be done," adds Marilyn Taylor, AIA, SOM, who worked hand in hand with Kia.

Consequently, the four teams had to coordinate closely in order to create continuity in the use of materials and building systems, as well as design, particularly since each team consisted of both local Israeli consultants and international design experts.

"To make things work, we had to make not just professional connections, but personal connections as well," adds Ashok Raiji, P.E., a mechanical engineer with Arup, New York, who headed up the M/E/P team for the landside terminal.

During the project's three-year design phase, the teams met monthly, alternating between Tel Aviv and New York. In Kia's case, the architect actually moved to Israel for two years.

According to Doug Schuerman, P.E., Earth Tech, New York, an electrical engineer on the landside team, the exchange was rewarding. "We were able to share our experiences with local consultants and develop really great relationships," he says. "We enjoyed wonderful hospitality in Israel and we were able to provide that here in New York."

But even with strong interpersonal dynamics, the complexity of the project was still a force not to be taken lightly. "The meetings were large and sometimes unwieldy, quite frankly, but IAA did a good job of keeping things moving along," says Raiji.

And speaking of unwieldy numbers, the new facility is capable of hosting nine million annual visitors. Keeping those people comfortable was a major task. Besides the usual traveler's facilities, the terminal also features a well-wishers' hall for departing passengers, a greeters' hall, a ceremonious connector wing and a larger-than-usual duty-free shopping area (see "On Duty," p. 34).

Creative cooling

Of course, those nine million people aren't all going to be at the airport on any one day or even spread out on a predictable basis. In fact, Raiji's M/E team had to take care not to design exclusively for peak loads, a common pitfall with airports. "We used a balancing report to predict population in different areas in the building at different times of day," he explains.

Take, for example, the greeters' hall—a vast, architecturally exquisite space beneath 40-ft.-high ceilings. There, the team chose displacement ventilation, placing cooler air at floor level, where contact with the heat generated by people and airport equipment warms it to comfortable levels. Conditioning only the occupied zone of this atrium-like area resulted in significant energy savings. Of course, getting the cool air to the floor was an issue. Ductwork, paradoxically, remained in the ceiling, so conditioned air had to be transported down. Cleverly, the engineers utilized the room's signature stone-clad columns, routing ductwork alongside and placing diffusers at the base of each support, so they, in turn, could be hidden by the cladding.

Such a serendipitous solution was not readily available in the similarly voluminous well-wishers' hall, where most of the terminal's retail outlets lie. Necessity, however, is the mother of invention. Instead of displaced ventilation, the team placed a series of adjustable jet diffusers above retail areas to throw air into the hall. "In the summer, the diffusers are aimed high at an opposing glass wall so that the cool air drops down. And in the winter, we reverse it," explains Raiji.

In the end, this pocket of space near the ceiling proved an advantage when it came to designing the smoke-control system. According to Chris Marrion, P.E., Arup, a fire-protection engineer for the landside terminal, these natural reservoirs were designated as smoke-collection points, minimizing the mechanical equipment required to do the job.

At the same time, because the retail area is the most likely place for a fire to break out, the fire-protection design was more robust, he says, and included appropriate smoke-exhaust equipment and sprinklers to prevent fire from spreading into the larger atrium. In general, fire sprinkler design for the terminals, notably on the airside, had to take into account the sensitive nature of the control tower and computer farms. Consequently, in such areas dry pre-action systems were specified.

Airside HVAC

When making the transition from the landside to the airside of the terminal, travelers encounter one of the architectural highlights of the structure—the connector hall. The original plan was to create two separate levels, but the architectural team from Moshe Safdie's Jerusalem office insisted on designing the connector as one space to create a visual connection between arriving and departing passengers.

Consequently, Safdie's team came up with the idea of two separate descending ramps, one for arrivals and one for departures, which converge in a scissors shape, separated by a glass partition. As they walk through the connector, passengers are treated to a spectacular view of the Judean Mountains through the large glass walls.

Solving an architectural problem, however, only created an engineering dilemma—conditioning the space without interfering with the architecture. With input from Black & Veatch, Kansas City, Mo., a local mechanical engineer—Daniel Hahn, D. Hahn Consulting Engineers, Ramat Gan, Israel—designed a system to bring air from a constant-volume handling unit into the connector via slots running between the outside wall and the people mover. In a number of other climates, explains Hahn, running airflows adjacent to an exterior wall could well lead to condensation issues, but due to Israel's mild climate, he says this was a non-issue.

For much of the rest of the project, M/E/P system interference was also a non-issue as the architectural team innovated the idea of including a hollow space within structural precast concrete columns to house ductwork, piping and cable. These cubbyholes inside the columns, which continue all the way into the concourses, are covered with accessible silver aluminum panels for maintenance purposes.

Future expansion

Any well-planned journey involves considerations for the future, specifically the return trip home. Similarly, the airport's planners also had to think ahead regarding the airport's future needs.

According to Raiji, this meant a wide margin for flexibility. For example, utility services come from a central energy plant via a tunnel under the airfield, but they're sized to deal with expansion to avoid having to replace pipes.

Also hidden within the architecture of the building's structural system, explains Dan Brodkin, P.E., a structural engineer with Arup, are little shelves where planks can easily be attached to expand the floor.

IAA was also very organized. "They identified several levels of expansion, conducted studies and issued reports on how expansion was being accounted for in the design," he says. "As a result, there is a lot of flexibility in the design for little of a cost premium."

With plans to eventually build two more branches to add to the existing three concourses, such foresight should yield significant savings. Also in the works are plans to expand the train service. Since the opening of the new terminal, passengers have been able to commute directly to Tel Aviv and Haifa for the first time. Within a few years, it is hoped that Jerusalem and Eilat will be added to that list.


At the end of this nearly decade-long project, Raiji comments that Ben Gurion has been one of the most difficult, yet interesting and challenging projects he's ever worked on—and something he doubts one could experience in any U.S. city.

"In North America, the focus is more on how to get from point A to point B," says Raiji, "whereas in Israel, the ceremonial procession is an event."

NFPA Comes to Israel

One of the more interesting aspects of this airport project was the application of a number of National Fire Protection Assn. codes that were unknown in Israel prior to this renovation.

While NFPA is much more accepted in Israel today, at the time when the terminal was in its design phase between 1995 and 1997, NFPA was, frankly, foreign.

"We had to translate the codes into Hebrew. We immediately found that some things done one way in the U.S. are forbidden in Israel," explains Moshik Schwartz, Abraham Schwartz Engineering, a Jerusalem-based plumbing engineer who was involved with the airside terminal. "For example, the NFPA code requires sprinkler heads in elevator mechanical rooms, but the Israel elevator code prohibits this, so we had to remove this from the design."

Specific to the project were NFPA 415, NFPA 101, NFPA 13 for sprinklers, NFPA 72 for fire alarms and NFPA 92b for smoke management.

Another place where NFPA design requirements didn't quite work with Israel's built environment was the specification of a special type of electrical cable, according to David Bar Akiva, Bar Akiva Consulting Engineers, Bnai Brak, Israel, who worked as a local electrical engineer on the airside terminal. "That particular cable is not available here, so we used a European cable that complied with the NPFA code instead."

In addition to agreeing to utilize NFPA, the Israel Airport Authority proved progressive in agreeing to allow performance-based design.

"I give them a lot of credit for going with the more unconventional, performance-based design approach," says Ashok Raiji, P.E., a mechanical engineer with Arup, New York.

Similarly, he was pleasantly surprised by IAA's cooperation and expediency when Arup's fire-evacuation scheme called for egress into a secured area, creating a conflict between fire safety and strict airport security. "The IAA and fire marshals came up with a strategy of how to resolve this by instituting a small delay to give the security staff enough time to arrive in the area," Raiji explains.

The IAA's expertise also came through while acting as the airport's fire marshal and authority having jurisdiction in running a series of organized meetings on a number of topics.

On Duty

During the design of Israel's new Ben Gurion Terminal 3, American architects underestimated the intended prominence of the airport's duty-free shopping area.

Even though initial designs allocated only a certain amount of space for duty-free, the Israel Airport Authority insisted on creating a much larger area.

"Duty-free is something special here in Israel, whereas the American designers wanted to design as it's done in other countries, for example, with low energy conservation and low heat flow," explains local mechanical engineer Danny Hahn, D. Hahn Consulting Engineers, Ramat Gan, Israel.

Due to the popularity of duty-free shopping in this Mediterranean country, the area had to be redesigned to accommodate a much larger population of visitors. Ultimately, at 35,000 square meters, the space was expanded to be four times as large as the former airport terminal.

In addition, a considerable amount of extra storage space was put into the design in order to accommodate Ben Gurion's "Buy and Bye" program where Israelis can store duty-free purchases during their travel abroad, then retrieve their goods upon their return.

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