'B' is for Alaska
Of the three projects going on at Portland International Airport right now, the replacement of Concourse B is closest to being done. The Port of Portland is building a new rental car center and third parking garage, and expanding the main terminal, known as T-Core.
Concourse B, like any concourse, will be a long corridor where air passengers who have passed through security can do two things. They either wait to board their plane, checking with the airline staff, playing with their phones and eating security-approved snacks. Or, they get off a plane there and hurry though with barely a thought of stopping until they get to their bags or their connection.
Concourse B was designed by ZGF Architects and is being built by Hoffman Construction and Skanska USA Building in a joint venture. It is expected to be complete by November 2021, according to the Port of Portland.
The biggest challenge with building a long box on flat land is that the airport is operating around workers. Although air traffic was walloped by the pandemic, dropping to 4 % of normal last April, it is now up to 44% of normal, according to the Port of Portland.
Concourse B is being built near the south runway, and next to a live taxi way for planes, some of whose asphalt is currently being resurfaced by other work crews. On the other side, the work is just a few feet from the passing MAX trains, which could be dangerous.
If you haven't been to the Portland airport for a while you'll notice a big part of the main terminal has been walled off. The Clocktower Plaza, which had all the main shops and restaurants such as Powell's, various chain restaurants and the Nike store, is no more. Stores, coffee and security have been moved closer to the concourses. So, our airport is, for now, a series of hallways.
The old Concourse A was narrow and had poor sight lines. It was demolished to make room for the new Concourse B. The Port moved all the flights from A to the end of C so they could build B. Those flights will move back to B when B opens later this fall.
Concourse B will be for Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air. It will have six gates for ground loading operations, where passengers walk along the tarmac to their planes, mostly to short Horizon flights.
Scott Sparman is the Port of Portland's Construction Manager for Concourse B. On a recent tour he showed the Business Tribune where the new curtain wall system is being hung. The new, huge windows, which let in light and show off the planes.
"In the Pacific Northwest, it's never light enough," said Sparman. "There's just going to be a ton of natural light, which we've not had on this side of the airport for a long time and which people say they really appreciate when they're traveling."
Concourse B will be mostly a high celinged space, but it has a second level where it attaches to the main airport building, and elevators and escalators. The longest wall will have an all-wooden mural by a prolific Tacoma-based artist with the catchy name RYAN! Feddersen.
Sparman says although it has not touched Concourse B's budget there has been some significant "value engineering" (cutting costs) on the T-core project thanks to the drop in travelers and POP revenue.
On the plus side, the slowdown helped this project.
At times the MAX station closed down (and TriMet switched to shuttle buses) because the trains were barely being used, which meant work could proceed more quickly.
"The old gates Bravo One and Bravo Two were supposed to stay open for several months. We were able to close those because they just weren't needed and we resequenced a lot of work. I think we saved about a month and a half on the schedule doing on this on this project."
WHAT THE ARCHITECTS SAY: A Q&A WITH ZGF
1. How has concourse design changed in the last 20 years? 5 years?
Sharron van der Meulen, Partner, ZGF Architects: Concourses used to be thought of as simply providing a place to wait for pre-boarding your flight. Now, they need to accommodate passenger's needs in a variety of ways: by providing amenities like food and beverage, retail choices, entertainment, and children's play areas. Hold rooms —the spaces where you wait to board your flight — have also changed and now need to accommodate passengers who want to work, with WIFI access, power outlets and furniture that supports this activity. In some airports, you'll find restaurants and bars adjacent to hold rooms, so passengers can grab a drink and watch for their plane to arrive.
Gene Sandoval, Partner, ZGF Architects: Overall, the sizes of concourse and hold rooms have grown with volume of passengers and carry-on luggage. Concourse design is also responding to trends like more dining and retail offerings post-security, increased air travel amongst families, and increased size of planes and passenger volume. For PDX, the original Concourse B was designed in late 1980s while Concourse A was designed in the 1990s as a temporary ground load area.
2. What are the essential design elements aside from elbow room and a comfy chair? Are views of planes important?
Gene Sandoval, Partner, ZGF Architects: Clear visual connection between spaces and wayfinding for ease of movement.
Lia Peacock, Associate Principal, ZGF Architects: Providing intuitive wayfinding is essential, as is providing connection to nature to increase the quality of passenger experience and reduce the stress of traveling. We are supporting this with full height windows that provide views out to the airfield and to the sky, and increased natural light through the filter of interior vegetation and exterior sunshades for optimal comfort. You can find Pacific Northwest-inspired biophilic—or nature-based design elements—in the graphic tile walls and integrated public art.
Sharron van der Meulen, Partner, ZGF Architects: Views and natural light are essential. It's been long proven that a connection to the outdoors assists with reducing stress and gives passengers something interesting to view. People have always been fascinated with the planes landing and taking off. Other essential design elements include washrooms in close proximity, clarity in wayfinding and signage, and food and beverage offerings.
3.What finishes are you using?
Lia Peacock, Associate Principal, ZGF Architects: We are using Oregon White Oak wall finish with integrated art from RYAN! Feddersen along the main circulation of the double story space. We are using Terrazzo flooring, which is durable and easy to clean for high traffic areas. The hold rooms will feature carpet, which also offers comfort and acoustical benefits. Finally, there is a wood ceiling in main circulation area to differentiate it from the hold rooms, which is acoustical ceiling tile.
4.Has designing for an airport been challenging compared to say a site downtown?
Gene Sandoval, Partner, ZGF Architects: Very much so. Especially designing for an airport that needs to remain fully operational. The team had to consider the safety of overall airport operations while designing a structure and construction sequence that allows the least disruption.
Sharron van der Meulen: The airport is comprised of several existing buildings, all designed to different codes at different periods of time. The existing infrastructure, including structural and mechanical capacity, had to be taken into consideration as did providing future flexibility for growth and inevitable change.
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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