By Luke Carothers

There are several major pieces of air travel infrastructure that are currently being updated or renovated throughout the United States.  When it comes to the ability to move freight by air as well as improving passenger experience, the current renovations to the Memphis International Airport are amongst the most important.  Originally constructed in 1929, the Memphis International Airport is the busiest cargo airport in the United States.  The Memphis International Airport has completed extensive renovations to its Concourse B.  The goal is to create larger, more energy efficient spaces that will both improve operational efficiencies.  Another key feature of the Concourse B Renovation project is completing necessary seismic upgrades to the facility.

For this project, Thornton Tomasetti provided structural design, facade engineering, and sustainability services. UrbanARCH was the Prime Architect, Alliiance was the Aviation Architect. Alliiance in association with UrbanArch, provided the design. UrbanArch was the Architect of Record.  According to Tom Poulos, firmwide aviation leader for Thornton Tomasetti,  the passenger perspective has changed dramatically since the Memphis International Airport–and numerous other airports in the United States–were first designed and constructed.  Today, passengers are likely to go through two or three cities during a day of air travel, and need amenities such as wifi and places to charge their electronic devices.  Still more, passengers traveling for work often require private rooms to conduct their business.

The current renovation project at the Memphis International Airport will bring this critical piece of infrastructure into the current age of air travel.  One of the primary issues of the previous concourse was its crowded corridors.  By creating more spacious corridors, one of the main goals with the renovation is to improve passenger flow and bring in more natural light.  According to Poulos, the existing concourse was built to accommodate a version of air travel that simply doesn’t exist anymore.  The previous concourse–a two story structure– was roughly 60 feet wide and had a low ceiling supported by columns, which is not sufficient to handle the traffic that comes from larger planes taking off and landing on an hourly basis.  These columns, while necessary to support the roof, served to block the flow of passengers throughout the concourse.  The updated concourse has removed these columns and also raised the roof, using long-span steel trusses that span the entire width of the expanded concourse.  This creates an efficient structural system that enables the flexible use of space below for adjusting gates in the future and installing revenue generating concessions.

When the Memphis International Airport was originally constructed, seismic considerations were generally not taken into account on projects in this area.  According to Zach Treece, Senior Project Engineer for Thornton Tomasetti, the design had to be creative to bring the building up to modern seismic standards.  The removal of the upper level and supporting columns, while improving passenger experience, also greatly reduced the seismic load that the building had to contend with.  Poulos notes that the decision to remove this part of the existing structure reduced the seismic load by about 60 percent.  The lighter structure allowed for a system that satisfies the current building codes.  The design for the project is innovative in its approach to these seismic considerations–the structure’s remaining single-story concrete frame was buttressed with a 2,000-ton structural steel framing system.  This system uses dual, concentrically braced frames and special cantilever columns to resist seismic forces from the New Madrid Fault Line.

According to Poulos, the passenger perspective has changed dramatically since the Memphis International Airport–and numerous other air-ports in the United States–were first designed and constructed.  Today, passengers are likely to go through two or three cities during a day of air travel, and need amenities such as wifi and places to charge their electronic devices.  Still more, passengers traveling for work often require private rooms to conduct their business.  The new Concourse B at the Memphis International Airport will have space to accommodate this new mode of transportation as a result of an innovative design that also takes seismic considerations into account. 


Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at lcarothers@zweiggroup.com.  

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