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Five teams are in the running to design a state-of-the-art new terminal at Chicago O’Hare as part of Mayor, Rahm Emanuel’s $8.5 billion O’Hare 21 vision for the gateway.

Chicago OHare

The five design teams comprise Fentress-EXP-Brook-Garza Joint Venture Partners; Foster Epstein Moreno Joint Venture Partners; Santiago Calatrava LLC; Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill (SOM); and Studio ORD Joint Venture Partners.

And, uniquely, the Mayor has promised to consider feedback from the general public on the designs after inviting them to review and share their opnions on them last month.

According to the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA), the winning team will deliver designs for a new, modernised terminal that will dramatically improve first impressions of the city for tens of millions of visitors every year.

It notes that this unique opportunity represents the first time the City of Chicago has involved public feedback in a design competition at its airports.

At 2.25 million square feet, O’Hare’s new terminal will be among the largest terminals built in the US.


“As the City that makes no little plans, Chicago is taking a bold step forward to choose the architect team that will set the course for O’Hare’s biggest transformation yet,” said Mayor Emanuel.

“This design competition celebrates our tradition of innovation and world-leading architectural history. As we move forward with the O’Hare expansion, we invite our residents and travelers to weigh in on one of the largest terminals in the country.”

“The new O’Hare Global Terminal is at the centre of our plans to transform O’Hare from kerb to gate,” said CDA commissioner, Jamie Rhee.

“The new O’Hare Global Terminal represents an opportunity not only for O’Hare and its airline partners to grow, but also will fuel new opportunities for residents and businesses from our 77 communities.

Santiago Calatrava LLC’s striking, comprehensive design calls for combining the O’Hare Global Terminal and Concourse in a singular, iconic building, where all gates are accessed from single central departures hall representing the airport’s new face; a pearl; a truly world-class symbol for Chicago and O’Hare.

“We’re honoured to propose a new design for the Chicago O’Hare International Airport, a hub that will serve as the first impression to the vibrant City of Chicago,” says Santiago Calatrava, Principal Architect of Santiago Calatrava LLC.

“Our team believes a beautiful, new terminal complex must reflect its citizens and their values, and our sustainable, open garden design evokes a truly magnificent structure that will welcome travelers from all around the world.”


Drawing design inspiration from Chicago’s city seal and motto ‘Urbs in Horto’ or ‘City in a Garden’, Calatrava’s design also includes a verdant garden and convenient access to adjacent terminals, airport satellites and an improved public transit interface.

The design concept is anchored by a glass façade and dramatic shell-like roof that soars over the approach road, unifying the central terminal area while also establishing a singular identity for O’Hare.

The ‘Y,’ a significant symbol to the City of Chicago derived from the shape of the Chicago River and its branches, is also embedded in the terminal’s core design, forming the important points of access and connection within the main concourse.


In an effort to support the activity and day-to-day logistics of O’Hare, one of the world’s largest airports, a central point for Calatrava’s design of terminal was ease of use, allowing visitors to orient themselves within the space for seamless movement and enjoyment.

Utilising the principles of Universal Design, the concept emphasises flexible and equitable usage for all.

For his O’Hare Airport proposal, Calatrava has assembled a team of nationally and internationally-recognised airport planners, designers, engineers and specialty consultants with respected Chicago-based and O’Hare-experience to support his plan, including architectural design firm HKS and full-service engineering, architecture, construction, environmental and consulting solutions firm Burns & McDonnell.

“Our team planned and designed a truly unique, inspirational and efficient terminal,” said Pat Askew, global director of aviation at HKS.

“Our concept will offer passengers, airlines and the city of Chicago a world-class experience and an iconic piece of architecture that fits well within the Chicago Department of Aviation’s budget.”

Brian Quinlan, Burns & McDonnell’s aviation and federal department manager in Chicago, stated: “We’re thrilled to partner with Santiago Calatrava and HKS Architects on this proposed, transformative design for the O’Hare International Airport.

“Burns & McDonnell has been a part of the Chicago community for decades and supported hundreds of critical aviation and infrastructure projects across the region.

“We are proud to contribute to the design — led by Santiago Calatrava — that honours our city’s history, captures our city’s bold spirit and integrates state-of-the-art features that will increase capacity and enhance the passenger experience.”


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