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Major airport unveils breathtaking renovation with hidden meaning: ‘We’re the front door to the region’

“It’s something we expect the community to really be proud of, because at the end of the day, we are.”

"It's something we expect the community to really be proud of, because at the end of the day, we are."

Photo Credit: iStock

Starting Spring 2024, visitors to the Portland International Airport (PDX) will get to experience a sustainable trend in forestry.

When they look up at the first mass timber roof in a major United States airport, they’ll see a stunning lattice ceiling, complete with 600,000 board feet of Douglas fir wood (a board foot measures 12 inches long, 12 inches wide, and 1 inch thick), according to the online magazine Reasons to Be Cheerful.

They will also be able to tell exactly where the wood came from: the ancestral lands of the Coquille Indian Tribe in Southwestern Oregon. 

The plan for the airport’s newly renovated structure began in 2017, with the collaboration of Portland-based firm ZGF Architects, regional tribes, and mill owners. “We’re the front door to the region,” said Jacob Dunn, ZGF’s sustainability lead for the project. “We really want to showcase this industry that is critical to managing and stewarding one of our region’s most precious natural resources.”

Portland is uniquely positioned to promote the sustainable practice of tracing timber, seeing an increase in passengers to the region. Traceability allows us to link their wood to sustainable forestry practices.

With the Portland airport’s newest project, passengers will get to see the beauty of ecological forestry firsthand. The wood comes from the cooperation of the Coquille Indian Tribe, Skokomish Indian Tribe, and many other groups, and it is the product of practices that value landscape over profit.

Traceability could set a trend of more sustainable future architectural projects, which can expand from airports to wood skyscrapers.

“Knowing the source forest of your wood matters for a lot of the same reasons that knowing where your food comes from,” Green Markets Manager Jordan Zettle said. “Forests and wood can both meet multiple economic, social, and environmental values.” 

Yakama Forest Products oversees loggers who harvest the trees and provides nearly 200 jobs in the White Swan, Washington community. “We’re taking that life of the tree and honoring it and making it a product,” general manager Steve Rigdon said.

By sourcing the wood from indigenous groups with an ecological forestry focus, PDX’s newest ceiling is more than an installation; it is the lens to a future involving a deeper relationship with our environment.

“It’s all sustainably harvested,” said Vince Granato, chief projects officer for Port of Portland. “It’s something we expect the community to really be proud of, because at the end of the day, we are.”

For Dunn, the project is a chance to reconfigure the market with this relationship in mind.

“We want to know where our wood comes from,” Dunn said. “That’s the level of market transformation we want to get to.”

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