PDX gives airport visitors a reason to look up ... in 2024

By Kate Davidson (OPB)
July 14, 2022 11:39 p.m.

Workers built a nine-acre wooden roof to cover the airport’s main terminal. Now they’re getting ready to move it.

The $125 million, nine-acre wooden roof that will cover Portland International Airport's expanded main terminal, pictured July 5, 2022. The roof was built on the airfield and will be moved to the terminal in sections.

The $125 million, nine-acre wooden roof that will cover Portland International Airport's expanded main terminal, pictured July 5, 2022. The roof was built on the airfield and will be moved to the terminal in sections.

Kate Davidson / OPB

Forget the carpet. The folks who run Portland International Airport want passengers to start looking up, not down.

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“People still love the carpet — and we love that they love that. We also hope that they will love our roof just as much,” said Kama Simonds, a Port of Portland spokesperson.

To that end, installation began this week of a nine-acre wooden roof with mass timber components that will cover the airport’s expanded main terminal. Passengers won’t actually see the roof overhead until 2024, Simonds said. (The current stage of installation involves setting up giant support columns at the terminal.)

But the roof itself is now mostly complete.

Workers built the entire roof 13 feet off the ground on a corner of the airfield, with planes roaring overhead. They put in the wiring, the HVAC system, and the sprinklers. Next, they’ll “unzip” the roof, as Simonds put it — separating it into 20 sections that “Star Wars-like transporters” will begin moving across the airfield in September.

A worker, pictured July 5, 2022, on a skylight of the nine-acre wooden roof that will cover the expanded main terminal at Portland International Airport. Crews should start moving the roof, piece by piece, in September.

A worker, pictured July 5, 2022, on a skylight of the nine-acre wooden roof that will cover the expanded main terminal at Portland International Airport. Crews should start moving the roof, piece by piece, in September.

Kate Davidson / OPB

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The new roof is natural in feel, with a lattice wooden ceiling that ripples across the airfield.

“It’s an undulating roof. Think motion. Think waves. Gentle rolling hills, even,” Simonds said. “We even had a very creative inquiry about whether or not it was a giant skatepark.”

The roof is intended to be a tribute to the Pacific Northwest, constructed from one of its most iconic products: timber.

The structure’s gentle curves are supported by “glulam” (glue-laminated) beams built from two million board feet of mass timber. Mass timber is a broad term describing engineered wood products made by binding layers of wood together to form solid timber panels or beams. The new airport roof also includes mass plywood.

The light from large oval skylights filters through the wooden latticework. That’s meant to evoke the dappled light of forests.

All the roof’s wood comes from Oregon and Washington, including from small family forests and mills, tribal nations and community forests. The port said almost all of it was sustainably harvested.

Port of Portland spokesperson Kama Simonds stands beneath a skylight of the airport's new wooden roof, July 5, 2022. Its construction is meant to evoke dappled forest light.

Port of Portland spokesperson Kama Simonds stands beneath a skylight of the airport's new wooden roof, July 5, 2022. Its construction is meant to evoke dappled forest light.

Kate Davidson / OPB

The new roof is part of the port’s $2 billion PDX Next project, a series of large capital improvement projects. Expanding and updating the main terminal is the largest component.

The $125 million roof was primarily funded by the airlines, Simonds said.

Several major construction projects have already wrapped up: an expansion of Concourse E, the home of Southwest Airlines; a newly built Concourse B, where Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air land; and a consolidated rental car center.

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