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A Look Back: The Southwest Terminal Expansion at BWI That Created a Wall of Structural Glass


Few American success stories are better than that of Southwest Airlines. The Texas-based carrier rose from a quirky, regional transporter to a major airline that focuses on secondary routes and smaller airports and has frequently been more progressive than the three other major United States carriers. One of those airports that has benefited the most from the rise of Southwest Airlines is Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) Airport located in the Baltimore suburb of Linthicum, Maryland. BWI is a focus city for Southwest Airlines, and is the second-largest airport by number of departures for that airline after Chicago–Midway. A record 25.1 million passengers traveled through BWI in 2016, which was an increase of 5.45 percent over the previous year. BWI was ranked as the 23rd-busiest airport in North America and the 75th busiest airport in the world by the number of passengers.



Southwest has invested in BWI and vice versa over the years. The airport headed up an aggressive terminal expansion that included the addition of 568,000 square feet of new terminal to consolidate Southwest Airlines operation into a 26-gate facility that would be expandable to 31 gates for the future. Landside improvements included a major expansion and improvement of the dated curbside system and elevated skywalk system connecting the short term parking garage to the terminal through three overhead pedestrian bridges. Terminal A/B modifications included new vertical circulation elements throughout the terminal complex and renovation of the existing passenger processing areas to increase efficiency and provide a common architectural theme and vocabulary. This massive undertaking was officially completed in 2005.


What most travelers noticed first in this expansion was the brighter and modernized entryway when checking in. Architects of Record, URS Architects (now AECOM), wanted to provide an entrance that was pleasing and incorporated lots of natural light while staying energy efficient. The Maryland Aviation Administration and the architecture team drew upon the long successful track record of airport experience and excellent reputation of world-renowned glass designers at Pilkington/W&W Glass to work closely on the installation with team at Harmon, Inc. The New York-based firm has a long track record of similar transportation projects including full-scale renovations at Las Vegas McCarran Airport, LAX Terminal 4 Connnector Building, and Norfolk Cruise Terminal among others. 



Airport renovations like this have special issues and restrictions. There are many complex problems to solve in order to comply with federal regulations, in addition to working in a 24/7 operating environment. Aside from the design of new construction or renovations at transportation hubs like BWI, these terminal structures almost always have integrated components connecting to existing terminals and are often in close proximity to active runways and roads to further complicate matters. Coordination with adjacent trades, specifically concrete, HVAC, metal panels, and structural steel can be challenging on a complicated three-dimensional grid. W&W Glass’ final engineered design provided clear Pilkington Planar™ insulating face glass units with K low-e on the #3 surface for the vertical walls. The face glass was then mounted to clear monolithic fins with Pilkington Planar™ 905 series fittings. The 3/4″ fins were fully tempered and heat soaked (to exceed European DIN standards) for safety by Pilkington in St. Helens, United Kingdom. The Pilkington UK plant is the only plant in the world authorized to fabricate the Pilkington Planar™ system as it is specifically set up to produce the highest quality product; this product comes comes with a manufacturer’s 12-year warranty, which is best in class. 


After well over a decade, BWI’s Southwest Terminal expansion still looks as nice as it did when it was first constructed. In fact, the Airport is now turning it’s attention to expand in other areas. There is a $60-Million expansion of the international terminal that is being pushed forward to grow the airport once again.

W&W Glass LLC is a family-owned business with a 70-year history in the metal and glass industry, one of the largest metal and glass companies in the New York metropolitan area and the largest supplier of structural glass systems in the country. We have over two decades of experience in the design and installation of various building enclosure systems, including stick-built curtain walls, pre-glazed unitized curtain walls, Pilkington Planar™ structural glass facades, and custom metal and glass enclosure systems. We install all of our work with our own dedicated union labor force. W&W is consistently the largest employer of glaziers in the NY metropolitan area.

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