New international terminal at Bush Airport is a guiding light and defining moment for the next generation of airports

With the structural bones of a new Terminal D-West Pier now in place, the next milestone will be the installation of a Houston-inspired lighting feature meant to dazzle and calm passengers.

March 31, 2023

Change is coming to George Bush Intercontinental Airport, IAH. The 4-Star Skytrax airport is preparing to welcome guests into a substantial section of its new Mickey Leland International Terminal, MLIT, constructed through the IAH Terminal Redevelopment Program, ITRP. The program is the most significant expansion in the history of Bush Airport and is the largest capital improvement project for Houston Airports. The new international terminal includes four significant projects: building a brand new International Central Processor, a replacement of the international baggage screening facility, a renovation of the Terminal D concourse and the addition of a new concourse in Terminal D, called the D-West Pier. 

Renovations to Terminal D and the construction of the Terminal D-West Pier are set to be completed in late 2023.  

The new D-West Pier will add space for new 5-star shops, bars and restaurants. New gates will make way for 10 narrow-body aircraft; the ability to accommodate 6 wide-body aircraft simultaneously will expand the airport’s global reach. Thoughtful design and furniture will make Terminal D inviting, comfortable and inclusive for more passengers.  

“World-class customer service, 5-Star amenities and cutting-edge technology will transform a decades-old terminal into one of the most modern airport experiences in the country,” said Travis Sanderfer, Executive Program Manager for ITRP. “But it’s the natural beauty of Houston that will make the Terminal D-West Pier special and the airport experience positively memorable for passengers.” 

A dazzling combination of copper ceiling and colorful LED lighting along a patterned west wall of the Terminal D-West Pier will gently ease passengers off their international flights and into the airport. In many cases, passengers will be adjusting to a new time zone. Softened versions of yellow, orange, blue and purple will be dictated by the time of day, the transition of time and a progression of the Houston sky and represented in an LED wall that allows passengers to experience the magic of flight through light. The color palette draws inspiration from the warm earth tones of the Bayou City’s slow-moving waters.  

A team at Fentress Architects is helping Houston Airports redefine what airport ambiance should look and feel like.  

“The copper feature ceiling was inspired by sunlight being filtered through the live oak tree canopies found across Houston,” said Matt Honegger, Associate Principal for Fentress Architects. “The openings within the copper are meant to filter daylight from the clerestory above. The custom-angled, elliptical tabs will reflect different angles of light just like the leaves of the oaks. These passengers will experience a vibrant and welcoming area bathed in natural light.”  


“The 380-foot-long LED feature wall will create a display of colored lighting and movement that can be viewed from anywhere in the concourse,” said Honegger. “While LED displays are not new in airport environments, the application is not focused on video representation. Instead, the colors will change throughout the day and year to represent a circadian rhythm and create a more passive experience.” 

The perforation of solid walls and ceilings with windows is a strategic and artistic design. The effect emulates a myriad of ways Houstonians find comfort in the sub-tropical climate. It also preserves views of the outdoors while protecting passengers from the hot Texas sun.  

The deliberate lighting design will spotlight works of art commissioned for the space by Houston Airports and the City of Houston Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs. Artwork created by artists from Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Brazil will celebrate Houston’s role as a primary gateway to Latin America. Works created by a diverse group of Houston artists will establish a sense of place in the new Terminal D-West Pier. Live musical performances by some of the city’s most talented musicians will serenade passengers as they move through the international terminal.  

Houston and its natural glow will be one facet of Terminal D’s shine.  

The building itself is a nod to Houston’s spirit – relentless, creative, inclusive and united.  

ITRP Topping Out


On March 8, dozens celebrated Austin Gilbane Joint Venture as it raised its highest steel beam into place – about 60 feet above ground. After 38,000 man-hours and 1,435 tons of steel a construction crew of 25 had erected the structural bones of the Terminal D-West Pier.  

With the help of white markers, the team left their permanent mark on the beam. In keeping with an ancient Scandinavian tradition, the team placed a tree atop the beam. The Scandinavian religious rite requires placing a tree atop a new building to appease tree-dwelling spirits displaced in construction.  

The topping out ceremony was the culmination of years of work and overcoming challenges like shortages and delays within the global supply chain which were caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Construction is happening in a live operational environment and construction schedules have been forced to readjust because of severe storms and inclement weather. Despite challenge after challenge, the construction site has maintained an admirable safety record of .3% recordable incidents over 667,541 total hours worked as of March 10.  

Now that the structural beams are in place, Bush Airport is anticipating its new construction milestone: the placement of the Terminal D-West Pier feature wall. It’s on track to be installed within the next two months.  

“As we move toward the completion of this massive construction project, it’s crucial that we stop and celebrate these milestones. The IAH Terminal Redevelopment Program is a sense of pride for our construction team, our designers and engineers,” said Laura Miller, Project Manager for the MLIT project. “We are watching history being built from the ground up.  The overarching design intent for IAH Terminal D is to create an exceptional passenger experience that expresses Houston’s unique culture for a memorable gateway to and from Houston while also constructing sustainable infrastructure that will serve Houston Airports well throughout the decades.”

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