News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Freres’ Portland airport project halfway home

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

Freres Engineered Wood has hit a key milestone in its innovative project at Portland International Airport.

Freres, along with its design and construction partners, is using mass plywood panels (MPP) in the new terminal’s roof, and company officials reported Tuesday that the project has reached the halfway point. Opening is tentatively set for the summer of 2024. 

“The new structure is a massive accomplishment for our company, and enough credit can’t be given to our partners, particularly ZGF Architects and Swinerton/Timberlab, but also Skanska and Hoffman,” Freres vice president of sales Tyler Freres told The Canyon Weekly. 

“We believe this structure will cement PDX as the pinnacle of travel experiences for the foreseeable future and we are honored to be a part of it. When people walk through this expansive natural structure, it will have an emotional effect on them.”

The 9-acre mass timber roof of the terminal features 400,000 square feet of Freres panels, with a total of 1,347 used on the first phase. The PDX terminal’s 18-million-pound mass timber curved roof supports 49 skylights installed across the roof. 

An additional 2,425 MPP parapet panels surround the perimeter of the roof and give it its unique curved “eyelash” design.

“It just looks very clean,” said Christian Schoewe, associate principal at ZGF.  “The improved appearance-grade MPP is absolutely stunning.” 

Freres began work on the project in 2019 with consultations required to analyze the complicated computer numerical control processes that the work would require.

“ ZGF and Swinerton (now partner Timberlab) were the primary forces in moving this project forward,” Freres said. “ZGF’s vision, and TimberLab’s collaboration with Freres and Zippo Laminators, led to the innovative undulating roof design that is in place today.”

Freres said that the use of wood in the new terminal constitutes a key landmark for construction and materials use in an age of climate change.

“The fundamental vision for us,” he said, “is that timber construction is not humanity’s past, but rather its future. With timber we can create the extraordinary buildings of the future in the most sustainable path available. Wood is renewable, recyclable, reusable, and sequesters carbon in its cellular structure to reduce our environmental footprint. We can’t achieve net-zero carbon buildings without the use of wood.”

Freres said that project planning by staff ensured a smooth construction process.

“The project went remarkably well considering the complexity,” he said. “I would credit this to an enormous amount of preplanning by the project team to understand the limitations of each other’s manufacturing capacity and the willingness to invest in machinery and people to make the project a success. 

“The ability to 3D model the entire structure allowed for fairly seamless integration. Swinerton was able to model complex curvatures and bevels into our panels that would allow normally flat panels to connect over a curved roof structure. When we cut and produced the panels, the shapes were installed in a quick fashion.”

Freres also said that projects such as the PDX terminal are of great benefit to rural communities in the Santiam Canyon and elsewhere which still are battling back from the 2020 wildfires.

“Mass timber is an extremely important development for our rural communities,” he said. “It is a direct example of how we can responsibly manage our natural resources to achieve a host of environmental benefits. In order to do that, however, our resources must be managed and we must have a cost-effective timber supply supporting our endeavors. 

“Managing our public and private resources will not only reduce the potential of catastrophic wildfires, but also lead to greater prosperity in our rural communities which have suffered greatly over the last decades under reduced timber harvest. Does society continue to build with concrete and steel for the foreseeable future? Or do we return to our roots and build with the most environmentally responsible material we have available to us?”


Who: Freres Engineered Wood (formerly Freres Lumber Co.)

Where: 5 plants in Lyons, 1 in Mill City

Employees: 400

Key products: Mass plywood panels, veneer, plywood, lumber, ag products (such as chips, sawdust)

Holdings: 17,000 acres of forest property, primarily planted in Douglas fir

Top officials: Rob Freres (president), Kyle Freres (VP of operations), Tyler Freres (VP of sales)

Founder: T.G. Freres, 1922

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