Allegheny County Airport Terminal Restoration

Allegheny County Airport terminal

Allegheny County Airport Terminal Restoration

Thoughtful Renovation Work Restores a Historic Airport Terminal

The art deco Allegheny County Airport terminal that opened southeast of Pittsburgh in 1931 remains a community icon. But in 2017, the white glazed brick terminal was showing its age, with cracked masonry, dislocated bricks and other general restoration needs. The Allegheny County Airport Authority called on our local HDR team to help complete the historic terminal’s rehabilitation.

We used historical research to make informed design decisions, and we completed thoughtful repairs to return the façade to a state of good repair. Our team knew how important this historic landmark is to citizens of the greater Pittsburgh region. So we were determined to help preserve it in the most respectful and resilient manner possible — along with going the extra mile to achieve those results, as needed.

A Faithful Rehabilitation

Our work, completed in early 2019, included restoring key components of the terminal’s airside façade: the canopy, the large central viewing window, the glazed terra cotta chevron bands and the large exterior clock. The Electric Time Co. in Massachusetts supplied technicians who restored the clock that was originally delivered by their colleagues from an earlier era.

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The terminal’s glazed bricks set the building apart architecturally and hold clues to its history. The building has two mortar joint sizes that distinguish the original 1/8” butter joint construction from the 3/8’’ of later additions. A delicate, labor-intensive operation was required — whether it involved retaining these early joints to preserve the integrity and original look of the structure, or properly cleaning and restoring the glazed masonry structure — mixing an artist’s palette with an engineer’s toolkit, so to speak. We recommended a masonry restoration program that would limit potentially-damaging water infiltration, and rehabilitate and stabilize the masonry.

Our goal was to help our client restore the terminal building as faithfully as possible, and this determined our approach. For example, we distinguished between standard aging and more serious structural concerns. Old glazed masonry units often display thin, vein-like “crazing” that is typical, and those units were not repaired. But when the cracks had expanded to expose base material, these material failures were replaced. 

To help the airport authority meet a tight grant-application funding deadline, we also helped jump-start the project by assuming a contractor’s role before our final design had even been set. We stepped in to help the authority pinpoint and obtain the quantity of masonry needed to do the job properly, along with its special shapes and glazing configurations. This enabled the authority to procure the right type of bricks well ahead of a regular contractor bidding process.

Preserving an Aviation Landmark

In recent decades the West Mifflin airport has catered to small and mid-size private, corporate and commercial traffic; it has more than 50,000 takeoffs and landings annually. The rear side of the terminal is open, with picnic benches available for aviation-loving residents and their children to come and watch planes or helicopters take off and land. The site has remained a prized community feature.

The airport authority wants the Allegheny County Airport to function as “the community’s airport,” continuing to offer a fun, outdoor activity for visitors and families who are lured by the romantic aura of traditional aviation. The airport hosts an annual 5K run, for example, that shows off the historic terminal and grounds. This renovation ensures that legacy can continue.

With its façade restored and building rehabilitated, the nearly 90-year-old community landmark will welcome visitors and delight architecture buffs for generations to come.

Allegheny County Airport terminal
Client
Allegheny County Airport Authority
Location

West Mifflin, PA
United States