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Monday, October 2, 2023
Oct. 2, 2023

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Piecing together new wood roof at Portland International Airport

392,000-square-foot structure expected to be done by year’s end

By , Columbian staff writer
4 Photos
The new 392,000-square-foot Portland International Airport roof contains many skylights designed to bring a lot of natural light into the space.
The new 392,000-square-foot Portland International Airport roof contains many skylights designed to bring a lot of natural light into the space. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

PORTLAND — Three pieces of one of the world’s largest puzzles, also known as Portland International Airport’s new 392,000-square-foot, curved roof, are currently in place.

The new roof will cover an extended main terminal, which comprises the ticketing and lobby areas, and is part of the $2 billion PDX Next remodel project. The initiative includes an array of projects including the Concourse B remodeling and the extended Concourse E.

The roof, which can be separated into 20 individual pieces, is being moved into place one piece at a time from the fabrication yard, located three-quarters of a mile down the tarmac from the main terminal. The roof is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

“We have spent about 18 months building a new mass timber wooden roof for the airport, and now we’re at the exciting part of putting those puzzle pieces together,” said airport spokesperson Kama Simonds.

Each of the pieces weighs at least 600,000 pounds. It takes four nights for a piece to be moved in place: one night to move it from the fabrication yard to the main terminal, one night to slide it into place, one night to adjust it, and the fourth to bolt it down.

Because the airport is active, the bulk of the construction takes place between midnight and 3 a.m.

All the wood is sourced from within 300 miles of the airport, much of it from family-owned tree farms, tribal tree farms and sustainably managed forests. It is supposed to give travelers the feeling that they are enjoying one of the many Pacific Northwest forests.

“Anybody who’s been for a hike around here knows you can get into these lush forests and look up. You see the wood canopy and you see the light coming through the trees,” Simonds said. “That was really the inspiration behind the wood roof.”

The steel columns that support the roof — which are constructed in Vancouver — are designed to be seismically resilient.

“If and when the earthquake happens, the roof should stay in place,” Simonds said. “It will move a little bit, but it’s designed to stay in place and protect those who may be underneath it at the time.”

To Simonds, the new roof represents a symbolic change for PDX.

“There’s a long history of looking down with your feet on the carpet and taking pictures of your feet,” Simonds said. “We hope that in 2024 you’ll be able to look up and also admire the beauty of the roof.”

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.