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Re-Energizing San Francisco International Airport Terminal 2


Gensler’s renovation of Terminal 2 (T2) at the San Francisco International Airport sets a high bar for terminals to come. T2 is not only filled with hospitality-inspired touches, such as high-end seating and commissioned artworks from area artists, but also incorporates a number of innovative sustainable features, making it the nation’s first LEED Gold-certified airport terminal.

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The 640,000-square-foot airport terminal has been designed to save 15 percent more energy than an airport terminal designed to meet California’s already-stringent building code, resulting in an annual savings of $170,000 in operations costs. A large part of this is due to the airport terminal’s efficient displacement ventilation system, which runs along the walls and circulates air at the floor level (as opposed to pushing it down from above), using 20 percent less power than conventional systems.


Top 10 LEED Projects of 2011

1 Cooper Carry Offices LEED-CI Platinum
Atlanta, GA
2 Pratt’s Myrtle Hall LEED-NC gold
New York, NY
3 KeyBank Higbee Building LEED-CI gold
Cleveland, OH
4 San Francisco International Airport Terminal 2 LEED-CI gold
San Francisco, CA
5 Adam Clayton Powell Paideia Academy LEED gold for schools
Chicago, IL
6 Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee LEED-NC gold
Chattanooga, TN
7 Arlington Free Clinic LEED-CI gold
Arlington, VA
8 Patrick Heath Public Library LEED-NC Gold
Boerne, TX
9 Stylex Showroom LEED-ci Silver
Chicago, IL
10 Andaz 5th Avenue LEED silver


The airport terminal’s plumbing fixtures are 40 percent more efficient than typical fixtures, and reclaimed water from the airport’s Mel Leong Treatment Plant supplies toilets and urinals. An abundance of skylights and clerestories provides a healthier working environment for employees and travelers, while significantly reducing electricity requirements during daylight hours.

SFO’s goal of generating zero waste has also been honored in the T2 renovation, most obviously in Gensler’s decision to retain a majority of the existing airport terminal’s infrastructure. The volume of the space remained unchanged, eliminating the need to demolish existing steel or buy new steel; that in turn reduced the global warming impact of the renovation by 12,300 tons of C02. Aggressive recycling and composting policies also reduce the amount of waste generated by the airport.

One of the more unique experiments in waste reduction can be found in the airport terminal’s “hydration stations,” which allow travelers to fill up reusable water bottles for the trip ahead. According to Gensler Principal Jeff Henry, SFO’s ultimate goal is to stop selling bottled water altogether, but for now, the hydration stations and their accompanying signage serve to educate the public about adopting eco-friendly habits.

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“One of the things we like about it is whether you bring a bottle or not, while you’re traveling you learn about it, you think about it, and maybe start implementing better practices in your own life,” he says. “Part of the zero waste initiative is building awareness among the public, so they go back and try things in their own lives."