Location San Jose, CA
Size 140,135 ft²
Completed 2010
Program Boarding gates, retail, restaurants, baggage claim area

Unlike cramped and crowded terminals with retrofitted security checkpoints and shoehorned concessions, Terminal B at the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) was designed from the ground up for air travel in the 21st century. The $1.3 billion modernization gave the United States its first LEED Silver-certified airport facility and noticeably put health, passenger comfort, and sustainability at the forefront. We talked to Vicki Day, the airport’s director of marketing and customer services, about the numerous interesting and environmentally conscious ideas employed in the new addition.

Leveraging Silicon Valley’s ample sunshine, the architects incorporated windows and skylights to harness the natural light. Photo: Nick Merrick © Hedrich Blessing


Site Solution 

At SJC, space is at a premium. “The airport is land-constrained at 1,110 acres and is hemmed in by freeways on the north and south and the Guadalupe River,” Day explains. With no more room to stretch out, how would the airport increase and improve operations? The only solution was to make better use of the space it had. The airport’s outdated Terminal C was torn down and replaced with the new, highly modern Terminal B. Terminal A, built in 1990 and still serviceable, got a much-needed makeover in the process.

Modernized Layout

Terminal C needed to go. Built in 1965, it was designed in what Day calls the ‘Casablanca era,’ when air travelers still walked out on the tarmac to board flights. When new security requirements and baggage screening came into the picture, they were crammed into the facility wherever they could fit. Terminal B resolves that cramped inefficiency by incorporating the now-normal functions of a modern airport into its design. “Improving efficiency was a big factor in the design,” says Richard Lewis, a project manager for Hensel Phelps, the airport’s design/build contractor. The process was equally efficient; the airport added 12 new gates without interrupting the operations of the existing airlines.


Client Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport
Architect Fentress Architects
Design/Build Hensel Phelps

Air Chairs

One of the most interesting innovations used in Terminal B are its 1,200 Air Chairs. “This is the first installation of Air Chairs in the United States,” Lewis says. “They were created by Zoeftig specifically for San Jose International, and now they are part of their regular furniture line.” How do they work? The seats include diffusers to cool and heat the concourse right where the passengers are sitting. Instead of circulating air from ceiling registers—an inefficient practice because it conditions large volumes of air that will never reach the passenger level—the chairs provide fresh air from underneath. And they have individual power outlets and USB ports for charging laptops and mobile devices.

Baggage Handling

A key to the airport’s increased accommodation is an in-line baggage system with eight new machines that have doubled the throughput of baggage. “At completion, the terminal had the most sophisticated baggage-screening system in the world,” says Mark Rothman, project manager with Fentress Architects, who designed the new terminal. This element, though less exciting than other design features, is one guests are sure to notice.

Glass is an important part of Terminal B’s green story. Low-E glazing and sunshades reduce heat gain, as does the six-degree angle the architects employed for the exterior glass wall.


Certification LEED Silver
Materials Recycled content, diamond-polished concrete, 94% of demolition waste diverted
Water Low-flow fixtures, recycled water used for toilets and irrigation, low-maintenance plantings
Air Efficient cooling via Zoeftig Air Chairs
Consolidated car rental Efficient operations, 25% reduction in airport traffic, 1-mW solar array

Evocative Façade

Aesthetically, Terminal B salutes the culture of Silicon Valley with an exterior of curved steel that cuts away in swooping arcs to reveal giant glass walls. The whole thing resembles, intentionally, a computer cable with some of the sheathing peeled away. “The design is responsive to the technological innovation that is Silicon Valley,” Rothman says. “We wanted it to be an icon for the region.”

Sustainable Materials

Helsel Phelps recycled up to 94 percent of the materials from the demolition of Terminal C, and the new materials used to build Terminal B have high recycled content. “Ongoing terminal maintenance and cleaning will be green,” Lewis adds. For example, though terrazzo floors usually require heavy chemicals to maintain a shine, the Terminal B floors were diamond-polished so that they can be cleaned with soap and water.

Designing Green 

Many of Terminal B’s design features came out of the project’s pursuit of LEED Silver certification. “It was the first airport terminal in the nation to achieve that, and at the time it was the most sustainable terminal in the country,” Rothman says. Strategies contributing to its LEED Silver status include low-flow toilets and sinks, recycled water for toilets and landscape irrigation, low-E window glazing and sunshades, a six-percent window cant, or angle, that helps reduce heat build-up, and automatic lighting controls that eliminate unnecessary electrical lighting on clear days.

SJC’s cutting-edge rental-car facility is conveniently located across from Terminal B and enhanced with a 1,200-foot, seven-story pixelated mural of more than 50 Silicon Valley residents’ hands welcoming travelers to the airport. Photo: Nick Merrick © Hedrich Blessing

Rental Benefits 

Just outside Terminal B is a new consolidated-rental-car center that is bringing efficiency and environmental benefits in its own way. The three-story facility allows vehicles to be cleaned, fueled, and repaired without ever going outside, and it is easily accessible by travelers, who can simply walk from Terminal B or ride a shuttle powered by compressed natural gas from Terminal A. The result? More efficient operations for the rental agencies, a reduction in auto-related emissions, and a 25-percent reduction in traffic on the airport roadways. Topping it off is a one-megawatt solar array that provides 20 percent of the facility’s energy needs.

Agricultural Landscaping 

Although Silicon Valley is known as a technology mecca, the surrounding Santa Clara Valley is tied historically to agriculture and agribusiness. “[The] landscaping pays tribute to that with plants arranged in orderly rows much like an orchard,” Day says. With a nod to environmental stewardship, the landscape design by Orsee Design Associates incorporates low-maintenance and low-water plants. Rothman says there’s no equivalent. “San Jose International is the best landscaped airport in the country,” he says. “These rows are remarkable to see.”