Mar 18, 201411:17 AMPoint of View

Q&A: Mike Rubin, on LAX's New Digitally-Enhanced Terminal

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LGD: Fentress was the architect for the airport terminal, and you said the foundations were already in the ground. At this stage, how were you able to actually implement the program to be integral to the architecture?

MG: In designating where and how the media features would be incorporated, Marcela Sardi was key. With her firm, Sardi Design, we tracked where passengers had “dwell times.” The first major opportunity for a media feature was the space of the light well; this intermediary space connected the old terminal and the new terminal structure. All departing passengers crossed a bridge after clearing security, while arriving passengers came down a multi-level escalator after passing through passport control. This was an interesting space with people both coming and going. So this created an opportunity for a welcome wall, and at the same time, an experience sending someone off!!  Sardi designed the Bon Voyage Wall and Welcome Wall to fit within the architecture so they would appear as seamless elements of the building.

Security guards stare at a media screen located on the entrance of the Great Hall.

Another major opportunity was identified in the Great Hall, where there was an existing elevator planned. We realized this structure offered the opportunity for a central icon, an organizing element of the passenger experience. Every proposed media feature was intended to look like it was part of the architect’s original plans. So we proposed extending the elevator structure so it was visible across the extent of the Great Hall, which opened up the opportunity for the Time Tower, a digital medium inspired by the great clocks of the railroad stations, civic halls, and terminals of the past century. The extension of the elevator tower also enabled the creation of a public lounge n the otherwise inaccessible upper level of the terminal, adding another dimension to the passenger experience

The sweeping roof that came down on the west side of the main hall, opposite the tower, presented another opportunity to integrate a major media feature. We wanted to create a terminus. This would become the Story Board, something iconic and relative to LA. Storyboards are an integral part of the creative process in entertainment and film productions, and we saw an opportunity to create a three-dimensional expression symbolic of LA as a creative capital.

We also were challenged by the fact that the Story Board feature , which extended over 120 feet across the space, would be viewed from many different vantage points, with the entirety of the view blocked by retail stores and other architectural elements. This lead to the decision to design a truss supported array of displays which would play up the multiple view points, using the screens to express varuous vantage points in the same narrative or scene. Any story would be experienced in multiple ways depending on the itinerary of the passenger, a phenomenon similar to the way travel is experienced.

A media screen superimposed over the hall's elevator volume.

LGD: You have mentioned some of the physical challenges, but this is a public project, with many constituencies involved, how did you get their buy in?

MG: The Executive Director of Airport, Gina Marie Lindsey was enormously supportive, as was Michael Doucette, who directed the overall development of TBIT for LAWA and had to make tough calls on accommodating the features into a building already under construction. The combination of leadership support from the executive side, the board, and the development side made this possible.

This project could have died a thousand deaths along the way and was on the verge of being “terminal” so to speak, on several occasions.

We had 23 presentations to the Mayor, the Board of Airport Commissioners, various city council people, and to the commercial development group of the airport. The greatest concern of the board was the anxiety that we might create a “Times Square” environment with the scale of the media features proposed. Our greatest challenge became ensuring that the underlying control system, media, and content created a true environmental media system and not a collection of digital signs. It's with great satisfaction for all the team, then, that many passengers, when prompted about their reaction to the "signs," asks which signs you're talking about. They see the media as experiential features not digital signs, and therein lays their value for both the passenger experience and for sponsors.

Visitors aren't jarred by the screens, Rubin says, and find that they seamlessly tie into the airport experience.

LGD: What have you learned from the experience?

MG: First, that it is possible to create a media architecture that adds to the experiential quality of a place. Media does not have to be depletive of experience, or disruptive of the sense of place. It can be composed as part of an intended expression or as a vehicle for engagement.

Second, we are on the verge of either becoming inundated with signage in our public places, or at the cusp of introducing a new form of medium which does more than “message out”—a medium that allows for various forms of meaningful interaction.

Third, that the success of architectural media in public places will often require a revenue platform that supports the intentions for the space, whether that is derived from sponsorships, user support, digital activation, events, or even the equivalent of district assessments. To develop this type of media, maintain a rich mix of content, and refresh experiences requires that the design process begin with a framework, which supports the generation of the required resources.

Finally, that the ownership and operation of these environments cannot be left to chance. In the case of the environmental media experience at LAX, LAWA has hired JC Decaux, as the third party operating entity responsible for maintaining the system, curating new content, and securing sponsors. LAWA’s leadership, however, remains key to the success of the media environment. Recognizing this responsibility, LAWA is setting up a process designed to ensure the dual goals of an enhanced passenger experience and a revenue platform are achieved through a multi-year plan and regular review process. There really are no precedents for this, so the next few years will be an experiment in the public/private creation of a media environment.

Leslie Gallery-DilworthFAIA, is an architect and urban designer. For 12 years she was the CEO of the Society for Environmental Graphic Design, prior to that she was the founding director of Philadelphia’s Foundation for Architecture. She has received three design fellowships from the NEA and was awarded their USA mid-career fellowship. You can find Leslie at

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