San Francisco Int'l Airport Air Traffic Control Tower


Federal Aviation Administration and San Francisco International Airport


Size: 55,000 SF integrated base facility

Height: 231-ft control tower

Design Build Team: Hensel Phelps / Fentress

Feature: tallest control tower utilizing vertical post-tensioning

San Francisco Int'l Airport Air Traffic Control Tower

San Francisco

Engineering Safer Skies: Innovative structural design makes SFO travelers safer

The seventh-busiest airport in North America, San Francisco International (SFO) is also one of the most challenging for air traffic controllers who safely guide more than 1,000 aircraft daily on four runways. New technologies and a seismically vulnerable existing tower — just four miles from the San Andreas Fault — led SFO to develop a new facility that exemplifies structural engineering innovation as it provides a safe, stable, and best-in-class workspace for controllers.

The iconic new structure is the first air traffic control tower delivered through a partnership between an airport and the FAA. Structural engineer Walter P Moore established several industry milestones with the tower design.

Structural Innovations

  • First application in an air traffic control tower of a vertical post-tensioned system to self-right the structure
  • Performance-based seismic design assures tower remains operational after a magnitude 7.5 earthquake
  • Tuned mass damper system limits perceived sway accelerations during high winds
  • First application of tuned mass dampers in a seismically controlled structure
  • Tallest vertical post-tensioned structure in California

The distinctive, offset circular cab ensures unobstructed views of all four runways and includes the latest technological advancements in air traffic control, increasing safety for the 47 million annual travelers through SFO.

For more detail about the San Francisco International Airport Air Traffic Control Tower, see our case study.

Click to view the ACEC 2016 Engineering Excellence Grand Conceptor Award video