Courtesy of Wood for Good.

About the project

The Portland International Airport in Oregon is currently being redeveloped to significantly increase capacity to 35 million passengers each year, while making travelling a more enjoyable experience for passengers.

Port of Portland

Image credit: Port of Portland

Designed by ZGF Architects, the aim is to replace and expand the existing terminal with more sustainable modern infrastructure and increase its ability to withstand major seismic events.

A key priority for client the Port of Portland was the health and wellbeing of everyone who works at or uses the airport, from passengers through to ground staff and flight crews, while also maintaining flight safety.

As it is the largest airport in the state, ensuring a strong connection with Oregon’s geography and culture remained another focus of the project. Half of Oregon is covered in dense forest and ZGF combined the need to focus on health and wellbeing with a reference to the local area by using biophilic design to create an atmosphere where people can feel more relaxed.

Use of timber

The client wished to minimise the amount of embodied carbon generated during the build and keep the overall construction process as sustainable as possible.

The previous concrete roof was too heavy to withstand a major seismic event and therefore needed to be replaced. The architects opted for a beautiful timber canopy which significantly reduces the building’s carbon footprint while also being much lighter.

The plywood and glulam canopy is the airport’s most eye-catching design feature, stretching across the lobby and ticket areas revealing natural light through to the trees, to create a calm and welcoming place on arrival.

To reduce disruption during the construction process, the substantial timber roof is being prefabricated at the nearby Portland International Airport airfield. Once constructed offsite, each piece which includes skylights, insulation, mechanical components and finishes will be installed over several nights.

Local timber sourcing

The team researched how to meet sustainability goals in relation to embodied carbon and how to source locally supplied FSC products. Oregon has a history of forest product innovation with locally sourced wood, and the designers contacted local landowners and mills within a 600-mile radius to produce enough materials to meet the demands of the plan.

The use of locally sourced timber also meant that the structure would be carbon negative throughout its lifespan. As a result of careful planning and by working closely with local suppliers, all the timber used on the project can be traced back to its original source. You can find out more about how the timber was sourced locally for this project here.

Biophilic design at heart

Many existing airports have explored natural landscaping as a way to improve the overwhelming atmospheres associated with travel. However, few have focused on the concept of human wellbeing and the psychological responses that result from biophilic design.

A connection to nature decreases blood pressure and improves people’s mood. Experts in biophilic research Terrapin Bright Green were an integral part of the design team and challenged the client to think creatively about solutions addressing passenger and employee stress. The team undertook stress mapping and reviews to calculate where in the terminal the most intervention was needed to make the experience as relaxing as possible for all passengers.

Bringing the outdoors in

Lots of new features have been added to the expanded airport to resemble the outdoor environment. The representation of the Oregon forest has been mimicked as far as possible and visitors are greeted by beautiful, planted tree beds, carefully laid out within the terminal requirements.

Meanwhile, the interior roof design was inspired by local forests and the slatted timber allows dappled light to filter through giving the impression of walking through trees. Organic shapes and colours coupled with natural materials and finishes add to the feeling of bringing the outdoors in.

Sustainable building throughout

The Port of Portland made sustainability a priority from the outset and established 11 Healthy Building Focus Groups to discuss topics such as energy, water, materials, and health and wellness. By opting to refurbish and expand the existing airport rather than demolish and rebuild, the project made significant carbon savings.

To reduce the use of resources for heating and lighting, the designers have specified a ground source heat pump to provide energy efficient heating for the airport. Meanwhile, substantial use of natural lighting together with LEDs mean that the lighting for the airport is 30% less than that required by the Oregon energy code.

As well as sourcing materials locally, the mainstream shops and restaurants are being replaced with small businesses, supporting the local community and giving the airport a sense of belonging and culture. The team are also upcycling materials from the existing terminal to re-use during the construction process.

Client: Port of Portland

Architect: ZGF Architects

Biophilic design consultant: Terrapin Bright Green

Images: Port of Portland