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San Diego Rental Car Center

The Rental Car Center is the first major component of the San Diego International Airport’s long-range plan to reduce airport traffic congestion and bring passengers closer to currently developed transportation nodes. In doing so, the Center helps to improve air quality by removing multiple shuttle vans from streets. The 2,000,000sf building is to be both technologically advanced and sustainably constructed. It includes state-of-the-art facilities to house 19 rental car companies (local small market operators) and 5400 cars.

The Rental Car Center is also designed to provide a high-end experience to San Diego travelers. Electric busses provide continuous transportation to the terminal. The center has two full height cores with enhanced public circulation and custom artwork that spans 60' high. The shell space with a decorative storefront is intended to house a restaurant that will have grand views of the airport. The articulated precast façade, curved glass storefront entry, tensile fabric canopies, and public art installations shall provide a striking yet cohesive element at the east border of the airport campus.


The Rental Car Center design entailed an open feel and high floor heights of 16.5-feet in order to meet the program requirements for rental car companies, and allow natural air and light to circulate the building. These design requirements eliminated the option for shear walls and called for the use of special concrete moment frames. With the columns spaced by distances of 60- and 409-feet, a system of long-span girder moments frames were treated by determining the optimal proportion of fired depth to column size.

The building seismic drift was also a controlling factor in order to maintain a maximum building separation of 12 inches driven by architectural and cost requirements.

Accelerated Construction Schedule:
  • Project Regional material value as a percentage of total materials cost = 42%
  • Project Recycled material value as a percentage of total materials cost = 24%
  • Reinforcing steel (rebar) & post-tension cable manufactured and extracted within 500 miles of project site
  • Reinforcing steel (rebar) & post-tension cable recycle content = 82% (Post Consumer) and 10% (Pre-consumer)


Building Foundation and Subgrade

Since the site was once the bay, the subgrade soil infill required 2,700 piles drilled with an average of 45’ deep to support the massive structure. In addition, groundwater affected excavations deeper than 10’ and required continuous dewatering operations.

During the initial geotechnical studies new faults were discovered that were previously unknown. Team assisted to the Airport to choose a building layout that avoided placing the structure directly on the fault lines.

Complexity and Magnitude of Concrete Reinforcing

12,500 tons of reinforcing steel (rebar) were installed on an accelerated schedule. The construction schedule mandated an average pour of 35,000sf of elevated deck per week.

Long Span Seismic Design based on large building footprint (500,000sf/flr)

Design Team developed a structural design for biaxial concrete ductile moment frames for each of the eight seismically separate building sections as well as the design of atrium steel roofs. The seismic analysis utilized 3-D modeling using site-specific response spectra dynamic analysis. With story heights of 16.5-feet and the columns spaced by distances of 60- and 40-feet, a system of long-span post-tensioned girder moment frames were created by determining the optimal proportion of the girder depth to column size.

Late Design Decisions Regarding Inclusion of Panels at Exterior Skin

The loads for the precast panels, designed and constructed by Clark Pacific, were required to be incorporated into the design loading on the exterior frames of the structure. Due to the protruding shape of the panels and point loading due to vertically spanning panels, integrating the design loading of the panels late in the design process proved to be one of the more challenging parts of the structural design.

Accelerated Construction Schedule:
  • 97,500 cubic yards of concrete poured in 12 months, (averaging about an acre of concrete a week).
  • Concrete pours up to five times a week and Structural observation four times per week.
  • 1.5 million square feet of formwork set.


  • Steel Reinforced Concrete provided the long life-cycle of the building that the owner was looking for.
  • Steel Reinforced concrete allowed the designer to use a moment frame design which allowed for a floor space to be completely open and unobstructed because the were no shear walls.
  • Steel reinforced concrete provided a very predictable schedule since the process for construction was extremely repetitive.

Project Details


San Diego, CA


San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, San Diego, CA


Demattei Wong Architecture, Burlingame, CA


Parsons Brinkerhoff with Kleinfelder Inc., San Diego, CA

Construction Management:

Kimley-Horn and Associates, San Diego, CA

General Contractor:

Austin Sundt Joint Venture, San Diego, CA

Concrete Contractor:

Austin Sundt Joint Venture, San Diego, CA

Reinforcing Bar Fabricator:

Gerdau Reinforcing Steel, San Diego, CA

Total Project Size:

2 million sq ft

Reinforcing Bar Placer:

Gerdau Reinforcing Steel, San Diego, CA


2016 CRSI Award Winner –
Transportation Facilities Category


Design B, San Diego, CA