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Designing a Terminal for Uber's New Flying Taxis: Behind Dallas-Fort Worth's Designs for Uber Elevate Skyports

Dallas-based Humphreys & Partners' Beehive Proposal Was One of Six Finalists Selected by Uber at Elevate Conference Earlier This Month
May 25, 2018
With Dallas-Fort Worth expected to be the testing ground for a commercial-grade Uber Elevate concept meant to bring Uber-branded flying taxis - a cross between a helicopter and an airplane - to the masses in the years to come, a Dallas-based architect has unleashed a design that can easily be replicated throughout the country.

The circular design of the skyport designed by Dallas-based Humphreys & Partners Architects LP is modeled after a beehive, and includes a series of circular disks repeated vertically upwards six stories with an open exterior with separate landing and departure sides for travelers. This was one of six finalist skyport designs selected by San Francisco-based Uber at the 2018 Uber Elevate conference in Los Angeles earlier this month.

Other design finalists include Dallas-based BOKA Powell, The Beck Group of Dallas, Dallas-based Corgan, Gannett Flemings, and New Haven, CT-based Pickard Chilton and Arup out of New York City, which collaborated on a design.

In the request for proposal, Uber asked the would-be design firms to create a skyport to accommodate passengers and support the vertical take-off and landings of the flying taxis.

In Humphreys & Partners' proposal, the design team focused on efficient design with the ability to recreate it throughout the country, said Walter Hughes, the firm's vice president of design overseeing the proposal.

"Our design is the most affordable, most efficient and easiest to replicate model [among the finalist designs]," Hughes told CoStar News. "This is an extremely simple design with the least amount of skin with the ability to easily expand vertically without taking up any more space. It is easy to replicate."

The "skin" of the skyport is open with self-healing bio-concrete - a concrete developed by Dutch researcher and microbiologist Hendrik Jonkers that can repair its own cracks - and foliage meant to be eco-friendly and reduce the noise and pollution that could come with a major hub for travel. The firm's skyport design also includes easy wayfinding for passengers with the center of the cylinder-like structure being the place for traveler circulation.

"Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best ones," Hughes added. "This is very simple, affordable and efficient to maintain. In urban areas where you can't expand horizontally, you can easily go up with this design."

In the case of Dallas-Fort Worth, Fort Worth-based Hillwood is working with Uber to select test locations, which include the development firm's $1.8 billion Frisco Station mixed-use development in Frisco, and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

Other locations could include Victory Park, which has a substantial Hillwood presence, and other nodes of development in North Texas.

Hillwood, which was founded by Ross Perot Jr., has always had a bent for development supported by aviation. The 18,000-acre AllianceTexas was built up, in part, because of the Alliance Airport in northern Fort Worth. Perot's background as a former Air Force pilot has seemingly helped his growing master-planned, mixed-use behemoth land big innovative projects, such as Uber Elevate.

Perot has said he looks forward to helping bring this "revolutionary technology" to Dallas-Fort Worth.

For Humphreys & Partners, Uber Elevate's request-for-proposal was "challenging to say the least," Hughes said.

"This started as a mathematical problem to figure in the amount of landings and battery re-charge time needed on the ground," Hughes told CoStar News. "It was challenging, but, once you understood the numbers, it was intuitive.

"We had volunteers working on this from throughout the company, and it was a great morale-building experience," he added.

Some of those calculations include the skyport supporting 5,400 passengers an hour with 180 take-offs or landings per hour. Uber has said they'd like to launch Uber Elevate by 2023.

And if Uber begins test flights, as expected, by 2020, Hughes said Uber will need to pick a design this year to allow for the skyport's development. The skyport designed by Humphreys & Partners could take about two years to develop, with another six to nine months to finish the design.

"It seems Uber is pretty serious about their schedule," Hughes added. "Whether it's achievable by 2020 is another story; this will take a lot of approvals on permits and regulations, but we’re ready to hit the ground running."

Candace Carlisle, Dallas-Fort Worth Reporter  CoStar Group   
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