« Back to Nominees

San Diego International Airport: International Arrivals Facility

Orchid Icon  Orchid

The International Arrivals facility at San Diego International Airport (SAN) opened June 30, 2018. The International Arrivals facility was constructed in Terminal 2 West, utilizing existing space built during the Terminal 2 West expansion. Forethought in design allowed for the successful completion of the facility in a short 13 months. The Certificate of Occupancy was received exactly one year from project groundbreaking.

Fulfills Customers Needs

The growth seen in demand for international flights has been eye-opening. In 1990, SAN averaged fewer than 50,000 annual direct international arrivals. That number grew to nearly 400,000 in 2017. It is projected that number will double by 2036.

To accommodate this growth, the new facility was designed to simultaneously accommodate two to three wide-body and three narrow-body aircraft. It will increase the number of international gates from three to six (at the completion of Phase 2 next year). Existing hold rooms were remodeled and a secure corridor was added to deplane and process passengers.

The San Diego International Arrivals facility features a spacious passenger wait area and expanded baggage claim. It is one of the most advanced in the world, including such innovations as “bags first” processing, biometric identification, and mobile passport control to provide a quick and seamless arrivals experience both for guests and those returning home.

Facts and Figures

The International Arrivals hall is a three-level, 130,000-square-foot facility. It took 4,000-plus cubic yards of concrete, 200,000 pounds of sheet metal ductwork, and 88 foundation piles that reach 55 feet into the ground to build the structure. Four escalators and three elevators were installed.

The contractor was Turner/PCL Joint Venture, the lead architect was Gensler, and the engineers were Magnusson Klemencic Associates.


The design for this facility aims to aid passengers in what can be a challenging and stressful process, using intuitive wayfinding, warm finishes, tailored lighting and daylighting, and integrated technology to ease the passenger through the international arrivals process.

The design concept borrows the varied landscape of San Diego County as inspiration to provide a locally-driven narrative for the passenger journey. This concept drove the choice of color, texture, and light throughout the project, including seven unique tile mosaics.

The passenger journey starts in a space inspired by the pine and oak forests of east San Diego, and travels “up in the air” as the passenger ascends to the Technology Hall before descending down a canyon-inspired vertical circulation core into the “shoreline” at the bag claim and processing booths. The journey concludes in the “ocean” at the Meeter Greeter Hall, where an indoor-outdoor strategy draws passengers out onto an intimate public plaza.

Public art installations enliven the Baggage Hall and the Greeter Hall, while hospitality-inspired finishes and design touches, such as the backlit resin wall in the Technology Hall, wood and quartz primary queue desks, feature lighting, and graphic mosaics, provide a welcoming and calming atmosphere for passengers. Careful attention was given to ensure that each step in this process is highlighted with a focal design element, providing an intuitive wayfinding system.


As with all facilities at SAN, public artworks were integrated into the facility to create an aesthetically pleasing passenger experience. Carry On was created through a collaboration between artist Walter Hood and 80-plus members of the San Diego community and airport staff. It is 225 feet long made up of 52 glass panels. The glass panels feature 624 photos of unique items that symbolize community, family and culture.

The second work of art is Paths Woven by artist Aaron T. Stephan. It is a suspended piece comprised of 24 maple ladders and one California Claro walnut ladder. More than four miles of wood laminate, 72 gallons of glue, and 500 custom clamps were used to fabricate this artwork. Its swirling ladders represent many individual journeys converging at the airport.

Community Inclusion

The Airport Authority has a long-standing commitment to providing opportunities for businesses of all sizes and workers of all genders and ethnicities. The Airport Authority’s Small Business Development program works diligently to ensure that local, small, historically underutilized, service-disabled veteran and emerging businesses have every opportunity to do business with the airport. Of the total $229.4 million cost of the project, more than $103 million (87%) in contacts was awarded to local businesses, and $32 million (26%) went to small businesses.

Environmental Benefit

The International Arrivals Hall was designed to achieve LEED Silver certification, further demonstrating the Airport Authority’s commitment to sustainability.



Photos by Pablo Mason

3835 N. Harbor Drive, San Diego, California 92101

Project Owner/Developer:
San Diego County Regional Airport Authority

Contact Name/Email:
Diana Lucero/dlucero@san.org

Project Architect/Designer:

nomination photo nomination photo nomination photo nomination photo nomination photo

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *