Fort McMurray International Airport is proof of how construction can be quick and efficient

Text: office of mcfarlane biggar architects + designers inc / Images: Ema Peter

Fort McMurray’s remote location, fluctuating temperatures and limited labour force meant that building its new airport had to be innovative and efficient, which can only mean one thing—wood construction.

The air side of the building is rendered with a consistent palette and architectural clarity.


Home to the Boreal Forest, the Prairies and the Northern Lights, Fort McMurray is unbelievably beautiful.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo in Northern Alberta expects population to double by 2030, thanks to a burgeoning oil sands industry that has thrusted the small community onto the global stage. This unprecedented growth has also created the impetus for a large transient population—temporary residents drawn to resource-based jobs who frequently fly back home between work cycles.

While Canada’s busiest airports have seen an average annual passenger traffic growth rate of about three per cent a year, Fort McMurray grew 25 per cent in 2012 and 2013, and continues to be Canada’s fastest growing airport. This, along with more forecasted growth, inspired the Fort McMurray Airport Authority (FMAA) to build a new green-field airport.

Major public areas are defined by a mass timber structure comprising cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels in combination with glue-laminated wood beams. The airport is presently the largest application of CLT in North America — in this case salvaged from British Columbia’s pine beetle infestation. CLT offers a light and rigid structure with a beautiful warm interior finish. This enabled the team to increase construction time, and reduce the carbon footprint and cost of construction. 

The three-storey, 15,000m2 building was constructed with significant off-site fabrication, durable materials and simple technologies in order to ensure quality and minimise both the construction schedule and future maintenance.

Completed in 2014, the $258-million project is iconic and memorable, set in a landscape that is in harmony with the spirit of its locale.


This article was first published in Wood in Architecture Issue 1/2018.