Portland International Airport has seen a surprising amount of action this year. Sure, there’s been less foot traffic given the drop in travel, but a new Concourse E opened last summer, and an embiggened Concourse B is set to open soon, all part of PDX Next, the 81-year-old airport’s ongoing renovation. Also on the way is a new main terminal, double its current width. That’s not slated for completion until 2025, but the project’s real showpiece—a curving, sculptural timber-lattice roof—goes in next year.
“We knew we had to do a new roof. With that breadth of an architectural canvas, you know, why not?” says Port of Portland program manager Lauri L’Amoreaux of the choice to not just keep out the rain but also bring some real flair to PDX’s new lid. “It will look lovely from the inside and the outside, which is not always the case.”
For the main terminal design team at Portland-based ZGF Architects, it all comes down to one word: wood. “The forests in the Pacific Northwest are legendary for large trees, high canopies, filtered light,” says ZGF partner Sharron van der Meulen. “The sense of walking through a forest and feeling all of that majesty was the inspiration.” Some 2.5 million board feet of timber will go into the roof, its skeletal framework swooping down from giant circular skylights and letting the sun shine in on live trees and other plantings for an outdoorsy feel.
Airports in general are “a sea of hardscape,” says L’Amoreaux, who adds that the wood tones will bring a warm, homey sense. What’s more, the roof will complement what might be the current structure’s most striking design element: the canopy over the roadway and the greenery on the parking garage that make up the airport’s “front porch.” That’s the one spot, though, where visitors won’t have a good view of the new roof. But once they’re inside the terminal itself, looking back on it from the concourses, or looking down from above as they fly in and out, there will be no mistaking PDX for any other airport. And that’s how we like it.