Property Type: Institutional
Neighborhood: South/Southeast  |  County: Ada  |  Building Status: Public  |  Architectural Style: Modern Contemporary
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The first Boise Airport, built in 1926, was situated where Boise State University is now, by the Boise River. In 1936 it was relocated to its current location in southwest Boise, at the end of Vista Ave.

According to the official website for the Boise Airport, the airport had the longest runway in the nation at the time, measuring 8,800 ft in 1938. Varney Airlines was the first airline company to fly in and out of the airport, starting in the 1930’s.

From the 1940’s onward, the Boise Airport also became known as the Boise Air Terminal or Gowen Field. The city of Boise received ownership of the airport in 1946 and the Boise Department of Aviation and Public Transportation was created. Two concourses were built later on, one in 1969 and the other in 1979, together costing approximately 8.5 million dollars in construction.

In 2004, a massive terminal expansion project was completed, drastically changing both the function and the appearance of the Boise Airport. The project cost approximately an estimated price of 108 million dollars. Currently five airlines work out of the Boise Airport. Approximately 2.8 million people either departed from or arrived through these airlines at the Boise Airport in 2011.

The renovation project occurred due to a variety of reasons, not the least of them being “form before function”. The airport of the time was misaligned with the runway and its limited capacity could not support any addition of gates. Seeing as the old structure was made of wood and structurally unsound, a full scale renovation, as opposed to minor changes, was needed. The city of Boise did not lose much culturally, since the architectural style of the original building was plain and had relatively no character, when compared to the more recent expansion. The expansion project was built with the capacity for future expansion, more appropriate and less combustible materials such as steel and concrete, and a parallel alignment with the runways. More importantly, it has a unique and remarkable architectural style that reflects the city in which it is situated.

The design process for the new expansion, which resulted in the building existing today, started in 1997. Architects from the company CSHQA traveled to other newly renovated state of the art airports such as the San Diego Airport, the Providence Airport, and the Baltimore Airport, to generate ideas for the new project. However, due to the 9/11 attacks in 2001, they were forced to reevaluate the building’s design, resulting in added complications ranging from increased security to an escalated budget. For example, they needed to institute TSA security and more significant security checkpoints.

Before 9/11, people could accompany passengers all the way until the departure gates, so retail and concessions were situated near the gates. After the attacks, the architects decided to place some of the stores just outside the checkpoint near the domed rotunda. They also ran bomb blast modeling for possible attacks on the curved loading roadway leading up to the ticket lobby. In response to the results, they changed the window panes to tempered glass, which would be less dangerous during an explosion, and they strengthened the roof.

Yet according to architect Martin Hahle from CSHQA, the most difficult part of construction was building the new building while the existing one remained operational. Because the city could not stop all air travel, the construction process had to be divided into stages in order to keep the airport running. Construction ended in 2004, and the airport staff switched from using the old building to the new building overnight.

The building has remained virtually the same since. Currently a new control tower is being built on the opposite side of the terminals, but it is not operational yet. CSHQA was not involved in this more recent project. After the terminal expansion, the airport has enlarged its parking capabilities and added a new impressive entrance sign at the end of Vista Ave.

The architectural style of the new Boise Airport expansion is modern contemporary with a focus on local culture, according to Martin Hahle from CSHQA, who was involved in the expansion project. The structure is modeled to reflect some of the most notable natural characteristics of the Treasure Valley such as the Boise River and the mountains. For example, the undulating ceiling of the ticket lobby and the wavelike carpet patterns incorporate curved lines to represent the Boise River. River rocks were placed in the walls on both the inside and the outside of the building as part of the same river theme.

The use of Travertine, which is a type of limestone, and Douglas Fir and other natural woods give the airport a uniqueness and a sense of place. Steelhead sculptures, an Idaho compass floor mural at the base of the domed rotunda, and a mountainous wall backdrop above the ticket lobby booths differentiate this airport from similar ones. Local artists had a chance to permanently place their works there during the expansion. For example, Louise Kodis constructed a mural exhibiting Baldy Mountain in Sun Valley which hangs at the far end of the ticket lobby near the rotunda. The airport was built so that travelers get a taste of what a special place Idaho is when they arrive at their destination. As an example of civil architecture, the building complements its surroundings and has a welcoming appearance.

Two of the most notable characteristics of the structure are the undulating ceiling and the rotunda. While the building in its entirety is clearly modern, the support beams visible on the underside of the ceiling give it a craftsmen style, while the rotunda dome is Romanesque. Steel is one of the most prominent building materials in the building especially in the ticket lobby, and is certainly common in modern architecture. Both areas are large and spacious with high curved ceilings, giving it a sense of open space.

Despite the unique style of the building, it was created like every other public building, to efficiently serve a specific purpose. Therefore the main goal in completing the project was creating a reliable, efficient airport. But in the process, the architects at CSHQA managed to combine this commendable trait with a structure that is both hospitable and unique.

References: Martin Hahle from CSHQA and the Boise Airport Website ( m)