Engineering the Orlando Experience, from the Airport
When you’re tasked with designing a new complex at the seventh busiest airport in the United States – the airport that serves visitors to Universal Studios, Sea World, and Disney World – you can’t Mickey Mouse around. Especially when you’re aiming for a “wow” factor, along with energy efficiency and passenger comfort in Orlando, one of the most humid cities in the nation.
As the firm responsible for building systems design (mechanical, plumbing, building automation/management systems) and high-performance design at the new iconic South Terminal C (STC) at Orlando National Airport, Syska worked closely with the other members of the design team to achieve each of these goals.
Completed in 2022 at a cost of $2.8 billion and used for domestic and international flights, the 2.1-million-square-foot STC encompasses a new airside terminal with an initial 15 gates, a landside terminal, an expanded parking garage, a ground transportation facility, and a central energy plant (CEP). The landside terminal, where passenger processing (TSA, CBP, CBIS, etc.) takes place, contains five levels and 800,000 gross square feet. The airside terminal contains three levels and 825,000 gross square feet.
According to the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority (GOAA), STC is “an architectural triumph where technology drives functionality.” GOAA emphasizes the terminal’s “soaring lines and sweeping vistas,” which showcase “the natural beauty, vibrancy, and diversity of Central Florida.”
But STC has also garnered accolades for its energy efficiency: The Central Florida Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council awarded STC its Sustainable Technology award in February. The complex boasts energy costs that are 25% below the ASHRAE 90.1 standard. And STC is one of the first LEED-certified airport campuses in the world.
None of this would have been possible without extensive behind-the-scenes collaboration to seamlessly integrate the engineering into the architecture. Fentress Architects was the design architect and HNTB Corporation was the architect of record. Connections spoke with JC Arteaga of HNTB Corporation; Sergiu Pelau, Syska’s principal in charge for airside; and Charbel Farah, Syska’s principal in charge for landside, to find out how they approached the integration.
Two aspects of the project – the baggage claim and the air handling system– had particularly strong influences on the outcomes:
...an architectural triumph where technology drives functionality.
Greater Orlando Aviation Authority (GOAA),
Baggage Claim to Fame
STC features no ordinary baggage claim. Each bag is equipped with an RFID tag, which speeds up the baggage claim process and ensures that every bag can be tracked. In most other airports, passengers must go to a lower floor to pick up their bags. Those areas are typically dark and have low ceilings. At STC, baggage claim is on the upper level, where passengers can enjoy a beautiful skylight and plenty of glass windows. “You can see Orlando via bird’s eye views as you wait for your bags,” says Sergiu.
The big challenge for the team was to blend the grand architecture of the space with high levels of energy efficiency. Because the height of the skylight was 53 feet, the team realized that it was necessary to employ practical engineering principles: stratifications and limited mixing to accommodate Orlando’s humid climate and cool the breathing zones, and custom air column diffusers integrated with the baggage claim carousel or free-standing, which deliver air at approximately 10 feet above the floor while returning warm humid air at the high point. “The stratification was a significant contributor to the energy savings,” notes JC of HNTB. “And they are remarkable for a terminal this big.”
You can see Orlando via bird’s eye views as you wait for your bags.
Another factor contributing to the energy savings was the implementation of a dedicated outdoor air system (DOAS) that Syska designed. “We used this system with an energy recovery wheel,” explains Sergiu. “You have outside air coming in and exhaust air going out. The two air streams are independent, do not mix, and pass through the energy recovery wheel, which allows you to recover some of the cooler air that’s coming out. That cooling capacity decreases the humidity at the same time.”
Chilled water generated by the CEP at approximately 42 degrees Fahrenheit enabled the air handlers and DOAS machines to work more efficiently, dry the air by removing the high moisture content and maintain a proper space temperature. The CEP is easily expandable, enabling GOAA to add chillers in the future on one side and cooling towers on the other side with no difficulty. The CEP was procured based on the “total cost of ownership” based on a life cycle cost developed by Syska’s design team.
“It’s a modular and resilient buildout,” says Charbel, who points out that the CEP also offers inherent equipment redundancy through a redundant distribution loop. “If something interfered with the energy feeding the landside, the CEP could feed it from the airside and vice versa.”
If something interfered with the energy feeding the landside, the CEP could feed it from the airside and vice versa.
HNTB and Syska have a history of collaboration on aviation projects, and prior to Orlando, they worked together and completed the Tom Bradley International Airport in Los Angeles, and they’re used to each other’s work styles, understanding, expectations and level of service. “Syska is always responsive to any questions we have or issues we encounter,” says JC. “We are extremely pleased with Syska’s work and with Sergiu and Charbel in particular.”
Syska is equally complimentary about JC and HNTB. “It makes such a difference when you work on a project with people you like and enjoy,” Sergiu states. The same is true for relationships within Syska itself. “Sergiu and I rely on and back up each other 100%, and we have a trusted relationship with HNTB,” says Charbel. “Since the airside and landside components of the project had different construction managers, this strong relationship was critical to maintain client vision, uniform design and excellent delivery.”
Although the terminal only opened in September, it has already gained an excellent reputation among passengers. “The STC is being hailed by everybody,” reports JC. “I see TikTok after TikTok with people saying, ‘Oh my lord, have you been here? This is amazing!’ And we did not pay them.”
I see TikTok after TikTok with people saying, ‘Oh my lord, have you been here? This is amazing!’ And we did not pay them.