Published May 03, 2021
Pssst! Want to see something cool? We’re sharing regular “work in progress” snapshots to show you what we’re up to. Up next: We're fabricating full-scale roof mockups, which give you a sneak peek into the building process.
As the carpentry adage goes, it’s better to measure twice and cut once — a lesson the crews working on the airport’s new roof have taken to heart.
Since we shared the first look at designs for the airport’s new main terminal, locals have paid a lot of attention to the Pacific Northwest-inspired details visible in the early renderings. But what people haven’t seen are the many challenges construction workers have been solving behind the scenes. One such problem: How do you bend the wood into place to get the sleek curves just right?
You guessed it: You measure twice. For a project of this size, “measuring twice” means building a mockup of segments of the roof — that’s according to Hoffman-Skanska project manager Katrina Day. If you don’t know, thick plywood and wooden panels can often be tricky materials to work with, especially when you’re doing a lot of bending. “We decided to create a full-scale mockup just to understand the curvature of the roof.”
“At first, the process doesn’t seem like something that has a lot of complexity to it — we bend and warp the wood to fit. But the material did not act like we expected it to,” she says. “The mockup really ended up being invaluable to our production process.”
In that way, the mock-ups are an investment for everyone on the project, Katrina says. It helps the team solve problems in advance and mitigate issues later down the line.
A member of the Hoffman-Skanska team snapped these pictures — taken in a workshop, not at the airport — to show us the fabrication of the mockup. While you’re only seeing a few elements of the much-larger project here, this sneak peek gives you a sense of how the full roof will come together as a series of “building blocks,” assembled around the region and then brought to the airport to slide into place.
Built with wood sustainably sourced from regional forests and steel from local mills, the new roof ranks among the largest timber projects in recent memory. You can scan over this guide to PDX Next construction to learn more.
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.