Published July 08, 2021
(Photo credit: Courtesy of Swinerton)
Pssst! Want to see something cool? We’re sharing regular “work in progress” snapshots to show you what we’re up to. Up next: The building blocks for the curvy wooden roof.
PDX always seems to do things a little differently than most other airports. That’s especially true when it comes to building the new main terminal, which is equally impressive for its architectural vision as its many construction challenges.
The curvy roof and the lattice wooden ceiling are two defining elements in the new renderings. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these striking designs have required teams to come up with some pretty ingenious solutions.
First, you have to get the curves just right. But no one has ever made curved wooden pieces quite this big. So Hoffman-Skanska decided to build a full-scale mockup, as project manager Katrina Day showed us earlier this year.
After determining how best to fabricate the curvy beams into the desired shapes, the next step was to figure out how best to put it all together. And installing a new roof over an existing airport leaves absolutely no wiggle room for errors. That’s why the builders have taken a rather novel approach to pre-fabricating the entire 9-acre roof — building it a block at a time, then eventually moving each block into place over the terminal.
If you step out on the job site right now, you’ll hear teams refer to these blocks as “cassettes.” These are obviously not old-school VHS rentals, though they both have at least one thing in common: They slide into place to give you the full picture.
Currently, crews are taking the glulam (aka those giant curvy wooden pieces, custom built in Eugene by Zip-O) and assembling the individual blocks on airport grounds but off the runway (and yes, visible when you fly out). Throughout 2021, crews will continue working on enough of these giant cassettes to have a full roof. Come 2022, the finished pieces will fit together to form one of the largest sustainable timber projects in recent history, with much of the wood directly traced to healthy forests in close partnership with the Yakama, Coquille and Skokomish tribes as well as other landowners practicing responsible forest management.
Some friends of ours took a field trip and snapped these images of both the glulam fabrication and cassette assembly processes. This gives you a rare glimpse into the ongoing production.
(Photo credit: Courtesy of Swinerton)
(Photo credit: Courtesy of Hoffman Skanska Joint Venture)
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.