Published August 30, 2021
(Photo credit: Vee Chenting Qian)
Vee Chenting Qian's delightful characters greet you the moment you walk through the doors of PDX. Their colorful, playful drawings are everywhere, from detour signs to walkways, and the coffee cups high-fiving each other and rollerskating clouds are sure to make you smile — which is 100% intentional. Born in Wuxi, China, Vee came to Oregon to study at Portland State University, and since graduating they have worked as a graphic designer and illustrator in Portland and New York. We called up Vee to chat about their illustrations and see what else is in the works.
Characters like the ones you see at PDX are always bursting out of Vee Chenting Qian’s brain.
What drew you to this project?
PDX came to me and said, "We want you to draw some simple doodle-like characters that are fun and make people smile when they walk into the airport." I haven't ever done anything so big that so many people can see. I've done editorial illustrations for Willamette Week [the weekly newspaper] that people around town will see, but a big installation sounded so fun. They gave me so much freedom to do whatever I wanted.
The illustrations are so joyful, even when they're rainclouds. How do you hope they strike people who see them?
From the start of the project, we wanted people to feel happy when they saw a skateboarding tree or a giant, food-loving snake. I want these characters to make people feel welcome and more relaxed, even when it's an exhausting, somewhat scary time traveling during COVID.
It must be something to see your drawings, blown up this big, all over the airport.
It's so amazing. Everything turned just like I drew it—but huge!
We hear you have another batch of drawings in the works.
For the new corridors leading to concourses C and D, we're going to have characters popping out from windows, just having fun, so people can feel like they're relaxing in the airplane and taking a sneak peek of regional attractions like the Blazers, bowls of ramen, and Mount Hood. We’re still working on the construction wall, but I’m excited for people to see them in the future.
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.