Fentress Architects is Awarded the IIDA Best Award for Sacramento International Airport

(Denver, Colorado) – Sacramento International Airport has been awarded the BESTaward by the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), Rocky Mountain Chapter for its groundbreaking interior design. The interiors of the modernized Sacramento International Airport reinvent a “small town” airport and create a true regional air hub through revolutionary interior design that closely aligns with the area’s natural environment.

Sacramento International Airport (SMF) initiated a modernization program that included a dramatic expansion and rethinking of the airport’s interior architecture and program in response to its emergence as a regional air transit hub competing with Oakland and San Francisco. What had been designed as a “small town” airport to accommodate approximately 10 million passengers per year was fast outgrowing its capacity and needed to be expanded to 16 million passengers per year. The modernization also involved future-proofing facilities to accommodate changes to traffic patterns and airport technology.

Critical to the modernization was creating a distinct sense of place that would welcome visitors to California’s capitol. The design team sought to differentiate Sacramento with an interior aesthetic that spoke to the city’s geography and culture. While the project was designed to be architecturally striking from the exterior, it is the interior where this vision was fully-realized. Improved wayfinding, public art, exquisite finishes, and a highly original program provide the Central Terminal and Airside Concourse with a refined yet comfortable passenger experience.

Sacramento sits in a scenic and heavily wooded valley. Designers began by closely studying the special geographical characteristics of the region to create a distinctive sense of place. The Terminal’s three story glass walls take advantage of the dramatic views of both the nearby mountains and downtown Sacramento. Clerestories, skylights, and horizontal sun shades add a welcoming, richly dappled interior light of a quality unique to the region. The quality of the light has become a signature feature to the interior comfort. Along the interior roof, crossing structural steel members create a dynamic rhythm of light and shadow, an effect inspired by Sacramento’s lush tree-lined streets. Repurposed old-growth redwood timbers with a rich patina were used as accents throughout the Terminal, creating another connection to Sacramento’s environment.

In addition to creating a sense of place, designers sought to future-proof the Terminal and create a simplified wayfinding program. A common use ticketing system provides flexibility to the airport to allocate check-in terminals according to demand. To reduce wayfinding signage that would obstruct views within the Terminal, a central skylight directs passengers to the central spine from which they can access a train to the airside concourse.


  • Associate Architect and Interior Design: Fentress Architects
  • Architect of Record: Corgan Associates
  • Size: 3,000,000 square feet
  • Construction Cost:  $1,030,000,000
  • Completion: 2011

About Fentress Architects
Fentress Architects is a global design firm that passionately pursues the creation of sustainable and iconic architecture. Together with its clients, Fentress creates inspired design to improve the human environment. Founded by Curtis Fentress in 1980, the firm has designed $30 billion of architectural projects worldwide, visited by more than 350 million people each year. Fentress is a dynamic learning organization, driven to grow its ability to design, innovate, and exceed client expectations. The firm has been honored with more than 450 distinctions for design excellence and innovation. In 2010, Curtis Fentress was recognized by the American Institute of Architects with the most prestigious award for public architecture, the Thomas Jefferson Award. Fentress has studios in Denver, Colorado; Los Angeles, California; San Jose, California; Washington, D.C.; London, U.K.; and Shanghai, China.

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