Published March 30, 2022
It takes a lot of hands to raise the roof at the new main terminal. In 2022, we’re shining a spotlight on some of the key people making this feat possible.
Photo credit: Hannah Letinich
If you've seen pictures of the Douglas-fir lattice that covers the ceiling of the new main terminal, you can imagine that building the lattice out of 600,000 board-feet of wood was a major effort. Just getting that wood to the Port of Portland's construction partners was a massive task. That’s because we wanted to make sure that almost every single board came from sustainably managed forests in Oregon and Washington—something no one had ever done on this scale. (Meet some of the forest stewards we worked with.)
Ryan Temple, president of Sustainable Northwest Wood, is one of the connectors who made this possible. The Southeast Portland company, which Temple founded in 2008, was the first lumber yard in Oregon to exclusively offer sustainably harvested and reclaimed wood from local mills for sale to construction firms and members of the public. "Part of what we're doing is selling wood," he says, "but part of what we're doing is educating customers."
PDX Next sat down to ask Ryan what it took to source wood for the lattice. This conversation was edited for length.
PDX Next: How did you get interested in sustainable forestry?
Ryan Temple: I grew up in Oklahoma, and I used to spend my summers with my grandad, who was Cherokee, on our Indian allotment land. One of the biggest impressions from my early youth was seeing him light our land on fire every fall. I asked him, why do you do that? He taught me that humans are not separate from the land. We are part of nature. We have impacts on nature. We are intended to live in harmony with one another. I have carried that forward into everything I do.
What does sustainable forestry mean to you?
If you were to ask a lot of folks about the concept of sustainability, they would say, well, we have the Oregon Forest Practices Act and Washington’s Forest Practices Rule. That means if we cut something, we replant it. But when you talk about sustainability in a forest, there's more to it than just propagating trees, right? It's not a crop—it's a functioning ecosystem. Sustainability also needs to account for watershed health, wildlife habitat, recreation access, species diversity, and resilience to wildfires.
What's the main challenge in getting wood from small, sustainably managed forests and tribal lands to the public?
For so much of the forest industry, you call up an order and, a few days later, it shows up. But when you really want to track wood to a specific [source], you have to adapt to a forest manager's schedule: If it's fire season, they’re not cutting. Or, it's too wet and [the equipment] would destroy the soil if we try to get in there. There are only certain windows when activities are happening, so we have to get the trees when we can.
What do you think will be the long-lasting impact of building PDX’s new roof?
For so long, the conventional thinking has been "As great as it sounds, there's just no way we can get all our wood from sustainably managed forests and know which forests it came from."
So many of us care about the health of our forest ecosystems, and we would like to think we can make choices that have a positive impact. But, too often, customers feel like they don't have readily available options. This is an example—on a very large scale—of how we make that possible.
With the entire roof, we're talking about 2.5 million board-feet of wood. That's a lot of money being kept in locally owned, non-publicly traded companies in Oregon and Washington. This project has also created a dialogue that normally doesn't happen between architects in Portland and people who work with chainsaws in Mill City, Oregon. Building understanding and empathy toward each other's livelihoods is another important, lasting impact.
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.