Published June 16, 2022
When ZGF Architects presented us with a proposal to build a 9-acre wooden roof over PDX’s new main terminal, we responded with a question: Can we source all this wood in a way that is better for the land and better for our local communities?
Together, the team came up with a set of goals:
All the wood would come from sustainably managed forests in Oregon and Washington.
With equity in mind, we should source from small landowners, community forests, and tribal lands all over the region.
Just like “farm to table” cuisine, we should trace as much of the wood as possible all the way from forest to frame.
No one—in the United States, in fact!—had ever done this before at the same scale. It took two years and many, many phone calls to build a network of foresters, mill owners, brokers, truckers, and construction firms who could join our quest to supply forest-to-frame timber. Here’s how we did it:
Traditionally, timber mills contract with forest landowners to clear-cut timber from large tracts of land. (The landowners also plant saplings to replace the 30-to-80-year-old trees they harvest.) Mills get logs from dozens of forests, and all of that timber goes into massive piles before it’s cut into boards and dried in kilns.
The system is efficient. There’s little waste. However, by the time the lumber leaves the mill, there's no way to tell which forest it came from.
For PDX’s roof, we forged new links in the supply chain so we could source all the wood from sustainably managed forests in Oregon and Washington.
The caretakers of these 13 forests thinned their trees with precision-cutting machines or cleared small (1- to 6-acre) plots. Both methods give the remaining trees better access to water and light, increase biodiversity, and make the forests more resistant to wildfire and drought.
The mills that bought these logs agreed to store and cut the wood separately from the rest of their supply—no small effort for efficient, fast-moving operations. Truckers then brought the boards to PDX’s fabricator and construction partners, who carefully labeled and stored all the wood destined for PDX’s roof and made sure it never mingled with other materials.
When the ceiling lattice is installed later this year, we’ll be able to point to specific beams and tell you which forest they came from. We are grateful to the hundreds of people who cared for this wood every step of the way—from forest to frame.
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.