The Network Operations Control Center is the heartbeat of the newly erected Southwest Airlines Training and Operational Support building in Dallas. No plane can fly and no crew or maintenance can be scheduled without directives from command center operatives. According to Scott Cherry, who serves as a project manager for Southwest Airlines, several hundred people are working in the center at any given time, each talking to other airlines and agencies as they control flight and ground crew activity.

To ensure a design that would be able to support all this activity and take their high-tech operations into the future, the airline tapped BOKA Powell, a full-service architecture, planning and interior design firm located in Dallas. The firm has both international design experience as well as intimate knowledge of the architectural needs of its city. The design task specific to the command center was twofold: to create a beautiful, structurally sound facility and to organize employees for more efficient, streamlined work.

Designing the Command Center

Architect Andrew Bennett, principal of BOKA Powell, and his team created a high-tech bunker that could sustain operations through Texas-size F4 tornados as well as other emergencies. The team designed the interior in a way that expedites communication within and among teams of employees, and then went beyond layout to include thoughtful acoustic design.

Knowing that the control center is “a very live room, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” as Bennett explains, it was only natural for BOKA Powell to use the center’s ceiling as an aesthetic and acoustic element, as the ceilings often provide the best means for controlling acoustics within a room. They installed 16,000 square-feet of CertainTeed’s Gyptone BIG Curve—a perforated acoustical gypsum panel that can achieve highly curved ceilings without the cost and time associated with custom fabrication. The particular style of the Gyptone BIG Curve selected provides an NRC of 0.70, offering remarkable sound absorption.

Its intriguing shape is expressive of the curvature of airplane wings, expertly engineered for precision during flight. In addition, Gyptone BIG Curve’s high light reflectance and ability to easily integrate with lighting elements creates seamless interplay between the ceiling and the center’s ambient blue lighting, which was installed to keep employees alert. Specifically, the blue LED lighting hangs below the curved ceiling and lights upward, to cast a blue hue throughout the room. By enabling this level of acoustical and lighting control, the dynamic ceiling blends form with function to maximize the performance and well-being of building occupants.

Iconic Brand Gives Pulse to Design

Flat screen monitors light the dark, bustling room constantly abuzz with Southwest Airlines employees. A blue hue flows from the curved ceiling over the high-intensity work being conducted below. Walking into the NOC center is like walking onto the set of a James Bond film, according to Bennett.

“It’s a very high-tech space for mission critical business. The sheer size of the control center is impressive. The height and design of the ceiling itself creates a real ‘wow!’ factor for anyone who enters the room. Just walking into it makes people stop and stare,” says Bennett.

Bennett further explains, “We tried to think about things expressive of Southwest Airlines. Many of the design elements are curved, reminiscent of wings. We had fun playing with analogies of airflow over wings and how we could capture that in the design. I feel the ceiling really does encapsulate this in an exciting, playful way.”

Cherry agrees, and notes that the ceiling’s aesthetics and sound absorption are key to the overall design.

“It looks good and gets the job done. This ceiling is a real success story.”