Baltimore-Washington International Airport will be transformed into a three-dimensional billboard promoting Baltimore, Maryland and the nation's capital under a $16.3 million enhancement program scheduled to begin early next year.
The Maryland Aviation Administration's campaign to upgrade the terminal grew out of a need to begin such long-deferred maintenance projects as repairing cracked floor tiles and replacing worn-out furniture.
But it has evolved into an ambitious make-over that promises to reinforce the airport's user-friendly reputation while giving it a stronger regional identity and underscoring its significance as a destination for international travelers.
When work is complete, the terminal will gain a one-of-a-kind airfield observation lounge made partly from fragments of old airplanes, lush gardens inside and out, and a large shopping court tentatively called Maryland Marketplace.
A main goal, planners say, is to take advantage of the airport's role as a gateway to Maryland and the District of Columbia and use the building to market the region to the millions of travelers who pass through each year.
"We want to play up the region," said Theodore E. Mathison, the state aviation administrator. "We want to leave people with a regional image, so that when they go through the airport they get an idea of what Maryland and Baltimore and Washington are all about."
The terminal has generally held up well except for cracked floor tiles, which have caused it to be known in some circles as "the world's largest bathroom," Mr. Mathison said.
"We want to take it to a new level. The airport is a way station in a person's life. We want to give people a feeling of comfort and security, and we want to leave them with a memorable experience."
'Front door' to Maryland
BWI handled more than 8.8 million passengers last year, and the number is expected to increase in 1993 with the addition of Southwest Airlines, discount fares on competing carriers and increasing international traffic.
"We're changing it so it becomes the front door to Maryland," said John Stebbins, a partner of Cambridge Seven Associates, one of several consultants on the design team. "We're developing a total spatial environment that will be a unique symbol of the region. It will be very welcoming. It will have surprises to it. People will remember it." The project will be the first major refurbishing of the terminal since the state completed a $64 million expansion and modernization of the former Friendship Airport in 1979.
One of the biggest changes will be construction of the $6.3 million observation lounge that will enable visitors to watch aircraft take off and land. The multilevel observation lounge will be an updated version of the old observation deck at Friendship Airport, which drew scores of the curious at a time when airplane travel was a novelty.
Sections of aircraft, such as a cockpit, wing and landing gear, will be displayed to supplement panoramic views of the airfield. Flight simulators, videos, scale models, graphics and other educational exhibits will provide a behind-the-scenes look at the airport and those who work there.
Planners say they hope the lounge's gift shop will be affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution's Air and Space Museum, although they do not have an agreement with the Smithsonian.
Photo murals planned
Other major changes at BWI will include:
* Photo murals of Maryland and Washington scenes, such as the Preakness, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, a Chesapeake Bay lighthouse, Maryland's hunt country, pandas at the National Zoo, Lincoln Memorial and the White House. The murals will be mounted in place of the large airline logos visible high on the walls of the main concourse, above ticketing counters.
* Patterned carpeting in the main concourse to replace tile floors.
* A new lighting system for the terminal's ceiling. Instead of shining from the ceiling down to the floor, as they do now, lights will be aimed at a new white metal ceiling and then reflected downward.
* Interior and exterior landscaping, including an undulating raised band of green plants inside the terminal's glass wall. The green space between the terminal and its adjacent garage will have colorful flowers and grasses rotated on a seasonal basis, gazebos and a metal sculpture of more than 100 flying geese.
* State-of-the-art information desks at the entrance to each passenger pier, with attendants to answer questions about the airport -- anything from the location of an airline to job applications. They'll also have information on regional events.
* New airline identification signs and information display systems both inside and outside the terminal.
'An identity' for terminal
BWI's design team is headed by Greiner Inc. of Timonium. It also includes Cambridge Seven, architects of the National Aquarium in Baltimore and Graham Landscape Architecture of Annapolis.
The designers tried to be sensitive to major architectural features of the existing terminal, including the red tile columns, glass walls and the black space frame, said Richard Tuve, a partner of Cambridge Seven.
"It's a strong piece of architecture, and we wanted to respect that," he said. "The red tiles, the black trusses -- they're strong, recognizable elements. We've tried to take that and build on it.
"So many airports are anonymous," he continued. "We're trying to give this terminal an identity that can't be mistaken for anywhere else."
"If you think of the terminal as a great hall or a great gallery, we've created a three-dimensional gallery where the people, the carpet, the [photo murals] and the pier identification signs all become part of the artwork," added architect Nick Forbess of Cambridge Seven. "We're telling a story about a place through the art."
The transformation will begin with construction of the observation lounge, starting in February and slated for completion by December. Another $10 million worth of improvements to the main concourse will begin in March and be finished by next November.
A second phase, expected to cost an additional $4 million to $5 million, will involve improvements to the public concourses of the airline piers, the lower passenger arrival concourse, and the retail and service corridor that runs parallel to the main concourse.
Final timetable awaited
A final timetable has not been determined for that portion of the work, but planners are hoping to begin it shortly after the first phase is completed.
Funding will come from the state's Transportation Trust Fund, and money for the first phase has been appropriated for this fiscal year, Mr. Mathison said.
The Maryland Marketplace -- part of a nationwide trend in which many airports are doubling as regional shopping centers -- will include stores and fast-food outlets.
It will be built in place of the present international pier after a new international terminal opens.
The state plans to start construction of the $130 million international terminal in mid-1994 and complete work by the late summer of 1996. It will have six gates in the beginning, with the capacity to add four later.
Mr. Mathison said the face lift and international terminal are part of the state's effort to attract more passengers from in and around Washington.
"Some people in Washington have the perception that BWI is 'way up there,' somewhere near Baltimore, when it's really no farther away from them than Dulles," he said.
"We think that when people find BWI, they'll fall in love with it."