Published July 10, 2020
When you step into the new Concourse E extension, you’ll immediately notice its striking design — the sweeping walls of windows framing views of Pacific Northwest landscapes and an open floor plan designed with the future of travel in mind. To bring this vision to life, design leader Michelle Vo of Hennebery Eddy has spent the past few years managing a diverse team of architects and engineers. We sat down with her to hear a few of the highlights from this milestone PDX project.
You can count Michelle among the carpet’s biggest fans. “I love that PDX is a carpeted airport. Not just because I was involved in the carpet replacement, but it makes it feel like you've come home when you land. And not just because it's carpet and it's quiet and it's familiar for people, but also because the color of the carpet is somewhat like flying into the airport — flying over the green state of Oregon.”
She loves a good challenge. And this project presented many. “One of the challenges about working at the airport is that things need to keep running 24/7. You have a very short window of time each day for construction activities that might interrupt daily operations — like midnight until maybe 4 a.m. That means our designs need to consider not only those interruptions but also the layers and layers of technical things that are happening on all fronts. It’s super complicated, which I love.”
Architects got inspired by the many PDX views. “We were taking advantage of opportunities in every direction — the opportunity to view the roadway coming into the airport, the opportunity to view Mt. Hood at the east end, the opportunity to have a more open feeling.”
The scope of the project required a big community to pull off. “I think what makes Concourse E different from other projects I've worked on is its scale. Not just that it's bigger, but also its complexity. That means we were able to work with all of these different experts — around 40 different subcontractors and specialists. It’s a different experience when you’re able to turn to someone who can help you solve a very specific technical problem.”
Success is all about pushing your limits. “I’m driven by trying to achieve something that I'm not 100% sure I can achieve. And in that way, I tend to go pretty hard. Like I'm shooting for 105% because I'm not even sure I can get to 100, so I've got to shoot high. And you know, when it happens and comes together, it just feels so good.”
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.