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Jackson Hole Airport Wins 2014 AIA Institute Honor Award for Architecture

For the design of Jackson Hole Airport, Gensler leveraged expertise from its aviation, hospitality and brand design practices to create a modern, efficient airport with an ambiance inspired by the regional context of Western Wyoming. For its design excellence, Jackson Hole Airport won a 2014 AIA Institute Honor Award for Architecture

Image © Gensler

Airport in a National Park

Jackson Hole Airport is the only U.S. airport located inside the boundaries of a National Park. As the primary gateway to both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, passengers are treated with an up-front view of the cathedral group of the Teton Range on approach to the airport.  The airport is the first and last impression to this truly unique region of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.


We envisioned the airport as a simple, understated foreground feature within an awe-inspiring landscape. Because the airport is a key entry into the region, we wanted our design to respect its powerful, yet fragile environment by leveraging sustainable design strategies to minimize its impact on its natural surroundings. In recognition of this sustainable approach, Jackson Hole Airport became one of the earliest airports in the United States to achieve LEED Silver certification.

Inside the airport, a “lodge-like” atmosphere is intended to be an extension of a living room or mountain lodge and provide optimum comfort for waiting passengers. The design concept departs from the sterile, conventional seating typically found in airports in favor of casual seating areas and a fireplace as a focal point. Great attention to detail was given to the integration of public art with the architecture. From the soaring bald eagle to the large scale “cowboy boots” watercolor, every piece was thoughtfully blended within the airport.

Transforming an Existing Airport

Teton National Park has an 18 foot building height limitation dating back to the mid- 1900’s, and the design team had to maintain this low profile. Although its location offered spectacular views, the existing terminal’s relatively small number of windows obstructed views of the landscape.  Finally, the existing building lacked architectural presence and did not offer passengers a welcoming first impression.

Although the building height limitation was a distinct challenge for the design team, we were able to introduce an expansive glass curtain wall to create great views to the mountains and flood the ticketing hall with natural daylight. The increased transparency established a strong connection to the outdoors, enabling travelers to orient themselves to their surroundings. To give the new design a sense of solidity and permanence as well as a signature entrance, we defined the entry with a canted overhang supported by massive wood columns that give the impression that the terminal is larger than it really is. 

A Clear and Easy Path

The building expansion included a new ticket hall, rental car area, and baggage screening building. This additional space enabled the design team to simplify the way people move through the airport, a stark contrast to the previously-congested floor plan. Upon entry, passengers have a clear sight line to check-in, rental car, security and baggage claim. This visual clarity is supplemented by an integrated wayfinding strategy that utilizes colors and materials rooted in the airport’s new brand identity and material palette. Passengers are able to relax because it’s clear and easy to navigate the terminal.

Connection to History

The Jackson Hole Airport is defined by its wood structure and was inspired by the delicate and humble expression of structures found in barns and sheds throughout the region. The ceilings and soaring exterior overhang subtly echo the prevalent use of plank lumber in construction located predominantly in the American west.

Texture and Landscape

The south-facing stone wall creates an entrance sequence toward the face of the new terminal and serves as a screening element for the baggage handling building. This expressive stone wall creates a refined simplicity with integrated stone ledges and steel reveal elements. The natural beauty of the sun produces subtle shadows that create an ever-changing play along the rich texture of the regional stone.

The landscape design concept was inspired by the natural habitat found in Teton National Park. The design expresses the variation in vegetation that exists across five different climate zones ranging from river bottoms and flatlands to the dense forest of the mountain ranges. The natural landforms are abstractly represented by the weathered steel panel landscape walls, which further integrate the landscape design with the building architecture.

A New Brand

We also created a new brand identity for the airport, reflecting the mountain environment and western heritage that is rooted in Jackson, Wyoming. This concept is a playful extrapolation of a signature brand much like what ranchers use to keep track of their cattle. The JH brand is stamped on elements such as wood columns, wayfinding signs and leather seating to consistently extend a clear brand message for airport visitors.

In my next post, I’ll offer an in-depth look at the sustainable design strategies that enabled Jackson Hole Airport to achieve LEED Silver certification.

Brent Mather loves to consider possibilities. His passion is searching for the inherent harmony that exists between architecture, site, and the people who experience it. As Design Director for Gensler's Denver office, Brent inspires people to pursue design excellence in everything they do while exceeding clients' expectations. Contact Brent at brent_mather@gensler.com.

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