Miller Hull

Multiphase renovation of the San Ysidro Land Port of Entry comes to a close after more than 10 years

12-17-2019 | Press Releases


SAN DIEGO, CA (Dec. 17, 2019) — The Miller Hull Partnership, an award-winning architecture, planning, urban and interior design firm, announces that the multiphase campus renovation of the San Ysidro Land Port of Entry (SYLPOE) was officially completed today on the U.S.-Mexico border between San Diego and Tijuana during a ribbon cutting ceremony.

The SYLPOE is the busiest land port in the Western Hemisphere and processes eight percent of all people entering the United States. Selected as the master plan and design architect for the project in 2009,  Miller Hull designed a welcoming point of arrival that supports the interconnected relationship of the two cultures of San Diego and Tijuana.

“I’ve been working on the San Ysidro Land Port of Entry for one-third of my career,” said Rob Misel, partner at Miller Hull and partner-in-charge of the project. “The project started over 10 years ago and a lot has happened since then. We originally saw this project as an opportunity to establish higher standards for reduced energy use, and together with GSA created a sustainable, built environment, which met or exceeded each of the program requirements for the tenants and the traveling public.”

Commissioned by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), the overhaul of the SYLPOE was a result of post-9/11 inspection protocols, as well as increasing traffic challenges, to update vehicle inspection procedures and reduce border wait times.

Set forth by GSA, the goals of the project were to: 1) incorporate the latest in security and antiterrorism enhancements, 2) improve vehicular and pedestrian processing, 3) improve operational efficiency, 4) provide greater officer and public safety, 5) decrease operational and maintenance costs, and 6) improve the traveler’s experience. Working with Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Miller Hull developed effective new strategies for processing vehicles and pedestrians in a well-organized and secure environment.

The redesign of the entire Port facility indicates the importance of being a leader in operational inspections and safety measures and provides a cutting-edge approach to infrastructure and traffic throughput. The impact of the redesign extends far beyond the physical boundaries of the 52-acre campus and considers the broader regional, financial, social and environmental impacts in its new design.

“There’s a very strong dialogue between San Diego and Tijuana that we wanted to respect,” Misel said. “Despite recent events that have taken place in the region and along the border, the San Ysidro Land Port of Entry plays an important role in the communities and economies of these two cities, which rely on the safe, secure and efficient processing of millions of people each year. The Port maintained continual operation during the project, demonstrating that our design was successful in facilitating modernized inspection procedures and reduced border wait times.”

In 2010, the first phase of design proved that high-performing buildings can be developed during a highly compressed timeline with an integrated, interdisciplinary design process. Maintaining operations 24/7/365, the first construction phase was completed in 2014 amidst a congested and sometimes chaotic traffic environment. This phase included the highly-visible Port Operations Building, which anchors the Port’s central campus and is juxtaposed against the lightweight, concave arc of the inbound primary inspection canopy at the southeast corner of the site. These two iconic structures provide an impactful impression for an average of 85,000 travelers entering the United States through the SYLPOE each day to shop, go to work or school, and visit family and friends.

“Across the site, we have relatively few locations where the buildings touch down on the ground,” said Cristine Traber, architect at Miller Hull and a project manager for the final phase of the project. “The inbound primary inspection area was always a really strong concept of single masts with cantilevered canopies, to keep the ground plane open so U.S. Customs and Border Protection could interact with the public more efficiently. Throughout the project we found that difficult design problems can be leveraged to create really inspiring solutions.”

The 230-meter-long primary inspection canopy spans 35 lanes of inbound traffic and is supported by a tensile cable and steel structure with four 38-meter-tall masts set in the middle of Interstate 5. Each mast supports the shade structure from tensile cables spanning eight traffic lanes and opens the ground plane for increased visibility, lane clearances and officer interaction with the public. Below the canopy, 62 inspection booths are stacked in tandem at each lane, increasing processing time by 150 percent. The inbound secondary inspection canopies are located to the west of the Port Operations Building, which provides an inspection area for approximately 75 vehicles. Together, the canopies measure roughly 120 meters long and 65 meters wide.

The roof of both primary and secondary inspection canopies incorporates photovoltaic (PV) panels, as well as ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE), which reduces structural weight and overall canopy depth. This minimizes heat gain and glare from sunlight during the day, while reflecting artificial light off the underside during nighttime operations.

In 2014, the subsequent phase of design and construction extended inbound inspection lanes and canopies and broadened the outbound operations of the Port by rerouting lanes of Southbound Interstate 5 to meet Mexico’s El Chaparral Port Facility in Tijuana. Port operations were further expanded through the construction of outbound primary and secondary inspection canopies, an administrative Outbound Headhouse and parking garage.

“What was on this site 10 years ago and what is here today is such a dramatic contrast,” Traber said. “I think about this project as a machine. It’s highly efficient, integrated, process-oriented and cohesive. Each part must operate with its counterparts.”

The SYLPOE was designed to optimize performance, increasing safety and establishing new standards for sustainability. It is a minimum 50-year facility unique and specific in use that must support the needs of upwards of 100,000 daily visitors, including hundreds of federal employees and 24/7/365 operation. Each phase of the SYLPOE meets federal mandates for performance, achieving LEED Platinum certification.

Due to operational and security requirements, energy and water consumption is high. Much of the program occurs outdoors in a predominantly sunny and warm climate where weather and daylight offer benefits and challenges to performance and comfort. Miller Hull initially addressed these issues from a campus perspective during the master planning process by incorporating high-performing energy and water features utilized year-round.

An efficient central utility plant (CUP) houses mechanical and electrical equipment designed to support all phases of the program, ensuring resilient operations. In tandem with the PV panels and a geo-exchange field, the CUP helps the SYLPOE generate its own energy. Meanwhile, a membrane bioreactor (MBR) and 300,000-gallon rainwater cistern function as a water treatment plant for on-site gray and blackwater, reducing water use by an anticipated 18 million gallons per year.

In December of 2009, Misel and the sizable Miller Hull team had just learned they would be planning and designing a new Port on the U.S-Mexico border. Misel began as a project manager and was elevated to principal-in-charge before serving in his ultimate position of partner-in-charge. Traber joined the team five years into the project, prior to the final phase of design and construction.

Over the course of 10 years, Miller Hull has worked to transform and redefine the travel experience, the durability and the performance of the San Ysidro Land Port of Entry. A culmination of their effort, the new gateway establishes itself as the port of the future in the United States and beyond.

For more information about the San Ysidro Land Port of Entry or The Miller Hull Partnership, call (206) 682-6837 or visit

About The Miller Hull Partnership, LLP
The Miller Hull Partnership is an architecture, planning, urban and interior design firm that creates dynamic and environmentally-responsible buildings, striving for a regenerative and inclusive future. The firm has a studio in Seattle and San Diego with work extending across typologies for public and private clients, including single-family, multi-family, mixed-use, civic, commercial, higher education, independent K-12, community, cultural, gateways, infrastructure and public safety. Widely recognized for innovative, timeless designs and a partnership-driven practice, Miller Hull has received over 350 local, regional and national awards for design excellence, including the AIA National Firm Award and Architect 50’s Top Firm for Sustainability. For more information, visit

Media contact:
Katherine Misel, Communications Specialist
The Miller Hull Partnership, LLP