Published October 01, 2020
Designers have unveiled their vision for the new main terminal at PDX. This early rendering shows the more spacious ticket lobby, which optimizes for wellbeing and passenger flow.
Fast forward to 2025: You’ve just landed at PDX and it’s your first time stepping into the new main terminal, as insiders often call the airport’s central hub. As you glimpse the bright space, you spot details that already feel familiar: Soft daylight filters through the wooden roof, almost like light filtering through a forest canopy. People gather in common areas that look more like city parks. And in almost every corner, you see touches of Oregon’s signature greenery.
If you get a little déjà vu, that’s by design. The sight of our region’s landscapes — and the calm it often brings — is a key inspiration for the architects working on the new main terminal. That’s according to Sharron van der Meulen, managing partner in the Portland office of ZGF.
“The inspiration we really looked to in the beginning was of the place, the natural environment, the really unique regions that we live in,” says Sharron, the lead designer for the project.
The new terminal's nature-infused interiors (and earthquake-resilient structure) emphasize our big goals: doubling down on health, wellbeing and safety. This milestone expansion will give us the flexibility to adapt to new technology and plenty of space to welcome the growing number of passengers we expect to see in the coming decades.
Here’s a quick preview of what’s inspiring these new PDX designs.
If you’re anything like the architects working with the airport, you probably spend a lot of your free time outside. (Hey, you might even have a few favorite trails in common.) With forests covering nearly half the state of Oregon, it feels like nature is everywhere we turn. It’s no surprise, then, that the new main terminal will bring elements of the great outdoors even closer to PDX. You see this especially in the most prominent design feature: the regionally sourced wooden roof. An homage to our region’s spirit of craftsmanship, the undulating roof stretches across the expanded lobby and ticket areas, with thoughtfully placed skylights mimicking sunrays peeking through evergreen trees.
What’s behind the new designs? Architects say the inspiration comes from the region’s many parks and the natural environments of the Pacific Northwest. (Credit: Thomas Shahan, left)
Can you guess the typical size of Portland’s city blocks? If you answered 200 feet square, you might be an urban planner. Local urbanists like to talk about the density of our street grid — that’s because our relatively small blocks make Portland more walkable and compact than many other American cities. It’s one of the reasons our neighborhoods are fun to explore on foot.
Designs for the new main terminal take inspiration from the human-friendly scale of Portland’s blocks and the rhythm of your favorite neighborhoods. Expect to see independent storefronts clustered together along a tree-lined “street,” musicians strumming guitars on the corner and cafe seating spilling out onto patios. It’s PDX, inspired by the Portland places you love.
Look to Portland’s walkable neighborhoods and leafy streets for a sense of the future PDX experience. The new main terminal will have a familiar urban feel, with plenty of local shops and relaxing green spaces. (Credits: Justin Katigbak/Travel Portland, top left and right)
You might hear some of the leaders of this project mention "biophilic design." It's a concept that confirms what many Oregonians know intuitively: Introducing nature and natural elements into interior spaces can help reduce your blood pressure and make you feel more at ease. We’re doing that with the new main terminal design — incorporating leafy foliage, organic shapes and colors, and natural materials and finishes.
We want your future experiences at PDX to feel easy and relaxing. So in the new terminal, you’ll see plant life throughout and striking columns inspired by towering Douglas firs. Real-life trees will shade common areas and form a mini greenway in the core of the airport. It’s all a nod to the landscapes that remind us of home.
These new designs bring the places we love even closer to the heart of PDX.
Here's what this year will look like for PDX (and you!)
For the past year, we've built a nine-acre roof on a prefabrication lot to the northwest of the airport. The construction crews are now installing the last component—an intricate wood lattice, sourced from sustainable Northwest forests, that will eventually cover the interior ceiling.
What you'll see: If you drive along Marine Boulevard, you can glimpse the roof's dramatic swoops in the prefab lot.
Behind all those partitions in the pre-security area, construction crews have been hollowing out the back half of the main terminal. Starting in March, the exterior structure is also coming down to create a more open, spacious footprint. It may get noisy for a few months!
What you'll see: Not much, in fact. But when you’re in the ticket lobby and going through security, you may hear and feel what’s happening on the other side of those partitions. We're strategizing ways to counteract the sound, including free earplugs at the front doors and a sensory room in Concourse D.
Next, we’re erecting 34 giant steel Y-shaped columns to hold up the roof. Right now, construction crews are driving steel pilings deep into the ground to anchor these columns. Over the course of a few months, we’ll erect the Y columns one by one.
What you'll see: You probably won't notice—most are going up overnight behind the temporary walls. Late-night travelers will occasionally have to walk a few yards around an installation site.
Once the biggest section of the wood roof is fully assembled, the project team will break it back down into 20 "cassettes". During the summer and fall, Hoffman-Skanska and Mammoet will maneuver each cassette into place over the existing roof. It will take several days to place each cassette, and the work will happen overnight — depending on the section we’re placing, we may guide late-night travelers around a short detour.
What you'll see: Unless you're flying into PDX on a late-night flight, or camped out on Marine Drive at 2 a.m., you won't see much. If you walk to the ends of Concourse C or Concourse D and look back toward the main terminal, you'll catch a glimpse of the airport's new roofline.
In addition to the big projects, you’ll see a host of new amenities appear throughout the airport. A new play area in Concourse E. New art. New restaurants and cafes. (Lardo! Screen Door! Good Coffee!) You're almost guaranteed to encounter something new every time you visit the airport — and we're not talking barricades.