It's All Under Control : Air traffic: Crews 'top out' the new palm tree-shaped tower at LAX. The $18.3-million project should be complete by June, 1995.


Los Angeles International Airport is rising to new heights.

Construction crews recently completed the "topping out"--assembly of the top floor--of the airport's new air traffic control tower.

The building's contractors, San Francisco-based Swinerton and Walberg, finished erecting the steel frame of the tower's 23rd floor last week, after breaking ground in August, 1993. The steel framework of an adjacent, five-story Federal Aviation Administration building has also been completed.

From the new tower, an integral addition to the nation's third busiest airport, controllers will guide the nearly 680,000 aircraft takeoffs and landings at LAX annually.

The tall, skinny tower is intended to resemble a palm tree, but is topped with such aviation metaphors as biplane struts and a wing-shaped enclosure.

Curved roofs echo the parabolic arches of the nearby landmark Theme restaurant, constructed in the early 1960s.

"The (city) wanted a real civic monument that symbolizes one's arrival and departure from Los Angeles," said Kate Diamond, one of the project's architects. "There was a feeling that L.A. was too important to have just a cookie-cutter functional design."

Airport officials say the $18.3-million project is on schedule for completion by June, 1995, and should be ready for use by 1996.

Standing 277 feet high, the new tower is expected to improve air safety by providing controllers an optimum field of view from a more centralized location in the middle of the airport. It has also increased floor space and the latest air traffic control technology.

"Back in 1961, the old tower was built in the middle of the South Complex, which was the main facility at the time," said Daniel Olivas, project manager with the FAA. "After years of expansion at LAX, the new tower will now be right in the middle of the whole airport. It will be higher, with more space and increased visibility for the controllers."

Designed by two architectural firms, Siegel Diamond Architects of West Los Angeles and Holmes and Narver of Orange, the tower will be 105 feet taller than the existing 172-foot tower, which will be used as a backup facility. The new tower will provide workstations for 12 air traffic controllers, four more than does the current tower. The new tower has been constructed 500 yards west of the old tower and is about 50 yards west of the airport's Theme restaurant.

Controllers will have 850 square feet of office floor space to replace the existing tower's 300 square feet.

The adjoining 29,000-square-foot FAA administrative building will house state-of-the art computers, recorders, transmitters, receivers and other sophisticated electronic equipment.

Over the next year, workers will finish the building's exterior and complete a significant amount of electrical work, including grounding the structure against lightning strikes and installing computer networks and sophisticated electrical backup systems.

"Usually steel is the biggest cost for a building project, but the electrical work in this is our largest expense," said Fred Case, a project manager for Swinerton and Walberg.

In addition to functional demands, such as stringent seismic requirements and the technological needs of the FAA, the project's architects had to satisfy the sundry requests of other agencies such as the Department of Airports, which asked that the tower's design not add to the airport's congestion.

Several initial proposals incorporating a variety of designs were deemed lacking in imagination or not emblematic of Los Angeles, according to the Cultural Affairs Commission, which had jurisdiction over approving the look of the new tower and administration building.

Other architects involved in the final design say they made an effort to evoke the rich aviation history of the city.

Said Adriana Lovinescu, a lead architect in the project: "We wanted to create symbols that could be read, to use design ideas that reflected the resources and innovation used in L.A.'s airplane history."

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