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Building Portland International: America’s favourite airport

Posted: 2 March 2021 | | No comments yet

Vince Granato, Chief Projects Officer at the Port of Portland, talks to International Airport Review about the construction of the new main terminal at Portland International Airport, which has been built with biophilic design principles and takes inspiration from the surrounding landscapes and streets of the city.

Main Terminal. Photo courtesy of Port of Portland

Portland International Airport (PDX) has long been voted one of America’s favourite airports due to our celebration of all things Portland: great food, creative people and outdoor adventures. It’s not very often that an airport’s three-letter code becomes a nickname for its city, but that’s exactly what happened here in PDX. As we begin to build a new main terminal, our goal is to bring more local flavours and charm into the airport.

The construction of the new main terminal is one of five major projects that fall under the umbrella of the airport’s capital improvement programme, PDX Next. Over the next five years, this series of transformative projects will bring more Pacific Northwest-inspired architecture, local restaurants and shops, inclusive design and carbon footprint‑reducing technology to Portland International. The other projects under PDX Next include: the recently opened Concourse E; a new Concourse B, set to open in Fall 2021; parking additions and a new rental car centre, also opening in Fall 2021; and the rental car wash and fuel centre, which opened in March 2018.

Building for the future

At the core of the main terminal redesign is keeping the figurative heart of PDX while upgrading the physical one. The new terminal’s nature-infused interiors emphasise our big goals: doubling down on health and safety. We’re building the space with an eye to the future – building for earthquake resilience and room to grow. The existing footprint will expand by 175,000ft2, and, while the new main terminal will give travellers more room, it will come with an important reduction: when complete, PDX will use 50 per cent less energy per square foot while doubling the size of the building. This milestone expansion will give us the flexibility to adapt to new technology and plenty of space to welcome the growing number of passengers that we expect to see in the coming decades.

Portland International Airport (PDX) has long been voted one of America’s favourite airports due to our celebration of all things Portland: great food, creative people and outdoor adventures. It’s not very often that an airport’s three-letter code becomes a nickname for its city, but that’s exactly what happened here in PDX. As we begin to build a new main terminal, our goal is to bring more local flavours and charm into the airport.

The construction of the new main terminal is one of five major projects that fall under the umbrella of the airport’s capital improvement programme, PDX Next. Over the next five years, this series of transformative projects will bring more Pacific Northwest-inspired architecture, local restaurants and shops, inclusive design and carbon footprint‑reducing technology to Portland International. The other projects under PDX Next include: the recently opened Concourse E; a new Concourse B, set to open in Fall 2021; parking additions and a new rental car centre, also opening in Fall 2021; and the rental car wash and fuel centre, which opened in March 2018.

Building for the future

At the core of the main terminal redesign is keeping the figurative heart of PDX while upgrading the physical one. The new terminal’s nature-infused interiors emphasise our big goals: doubling down on health and safety. We’re building the space with an eye to the future – building for earthquake resilience and room to grow. The existing footprint will expand by 175,000ft2, and, while the new main terminal will give travellers more room, it will come with an important reduction: when complete, PDX will use 50 per cent less energy per square foot while doubling the size of the building. This milestone expansion will give us the flexibility to adapt to new technology and plenty of space to welcome the growing number of passengers that we expect to see in the coming decades.

This increase in size also gives us the opportunity to use our region’s landscapes as inspiration for the new main terminal, mirroring the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest in the architectural design. It is something that we focused on in the now completed concourse E, with sweeping glass walls framing views of Mount Hood and the Columbia River. The new main terminal will bring elements of the great outdoors even closer to PDX. You will see a nod to the forests and rivers of Oregon, notably in the most prominent design feature: the sustainably and regionally-sourced wooden roof. Its design takes notes from walks through the woods of our region and the ripples of our pristine rivers. The undulating roof stretches across the expanded lobby and ticket areas, with thoughtfully placed skylights mimicking sunrays peeking through evergreen trees.

Main Terminal 2. Photo courtesy of Port of Portland

Bringing the outdoors in

Creating a beautiful atmosphere is just part of why ZGF, the architects working on the new main terminal, focused on the idea of biophilic design. This type of design centres on introducing nature and organic elements into interior spaces – incorporating leafy foliage and natural materials and finishes. All of this comes with health benefits, as it can help to reduce your blood pressure and make you feel more at ease. Pretty important stuff when you’re navigating an airport while managing your time, your luggage and your travel companions. From striking columns inspired by towering Douglas firs to the real-life trees shading the common areas to form a mini greenway, it’s all an ode to the landscapes that remind those of us who live in this region of home.

This increase in size also gives us the opportunity to use our region’s landscapes as inspiration for the new main terminal, mirroring the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest in the architectural design”

Infusing the design with natural elements is not the only tribute to Portland; we’re a city with a unique vibe, and we wanted to echo that in our terminal. Local urbanists like to talk about the density of our city’s street grid – that’s because our relatively small blocks make Portland more walkable and compact than many other American cities. It’s one of the reasons that our neighbourhoods are fun to explore on foot. Designs for the new main terminal takes inspiration from the human-friendly scale of Portland’s blocks and the rhythm of our favourite neighbourhoods. We want that same feel as you travel through the airport. Expect to see independent storefronts clustered together along a tree-lined ‘street’, musicians strumming guitars on the corner and café seating spilling out onto patios.

Concourse E. Photo Courtesy of Port of Portland

Creating a neighbourhood feel

Concessions and businesses that you would see on a walk through the city help us keep that neighbourhood feel. The new space will have room for 20 new concessions, opening up more opportunities for local businesses. We saw Oregon coast favourite, Tillamook, bring us their “dairy done right” in concourse E, and Southern comfort food icon, Screen Door, will join us in the newly expanded B concourse in 2021. We will continue to preserve the flavour of Portland with more local, beloved eateries and shops in our new main terminal.

Beyond the physical look and feel of the redesigned space, we know that it’s the people of Portland who make our neighbourhoods sing. That’s true at PDX, too, where artists and musicians will keep bringing the heart and soul for years to come. The musical element is a big part of what gives PDX it’s relaxing atmosphere – we have a dozen-plus talented musicians who volunteer at the airport playing live music for the passing public.

We’re building the space with an eye to the future – building for earthquake resilience and room to grow”

It’s not just the sounds of local talent that bring life to PDX, it’s the sights too. In addition to the five new spaces recently commissioned for artwork throughout the airport, the new main terminal will create more space for public art. This means more opportunities for collaborations with the region’s art scene. By engaging artists from our region and exploring a diverse array of makers and mediums, we highlight art that is for the community, by the community, and create an interactive experience for travellers. You can see this in Jacob Hashimoto’s recent concourse E suspended sculpture, a design connected to his Japanese roots that incorporates locally inspired graphics incorporated throughout. Concourse B will feature RYAN! Feddersen’s eye-catching lenticular portraits that celebrate Indigenous people and culture, and are inspired by some of Oregon’s most scenic places. We’ll keep this thread of art that speaks to our home base throughout the new space.

So, in 2025, when you land at PDX, you’ll find yourself in the new main terminal – open, airy and green – and, while the space will look and feel different, the heart and soul of the airport that Portlanders know and love will still feel like home. Keeping to what we perceive to be the scale and scope of Portland – intimate; easy to navigate; bright, open spaces; and local shops and restaurants – we’ll preserve what we love about PDX while creating healthy, resilient and adaptable spaces to better serve passengers, airport employees and our community.

Vince GranatoVince Granato was named the Port of Portland’s Chief Projects Officer in December 2019. This position was created out of a need for focused oversight of the port’s $2 billion series of projects, referred to as PDX Next, which will increase the size of Portland International Airport (PDX) by 40 per cent.
Vince has over 33 years of experience with the Port of Portland, most recently serving as the Port’s Chief Operating Officer, where he was responsible for all operating functions for the port, including Portland International Airport, a two-airport General Aviation reliever system and all of the port’s marine terminals.
Vince has participated in a number of national initiatives in the aviation industry, including the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Baggage Screening Investment Study Group and various other initiatives for Airports Council International (ACI). He is also the Vice-Chair of the Oregon State Aviation Board.
Vince is a native of Portland, Oregon and attended Oregon State University and graduated from Portland State University with a bachelor’s degree in finance.

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