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City reveals shortlist of architects vying to design $8.5B O’Hare expansion

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Five finalist teams will compete for the massive O’Hare Global Terminal


After receiving bids from twelve groups that included some of the planet’s top architectural talent, Chicago has narrowed its search down to five teams hoping to design a $8.5 billion terminal expansion of O’Hare International Airport.

The bid shortlist is headlined by local giant Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), Chicago-based Studio Gang, Spanish-born starchitect Santiago Calatrava, London’s Foster + Partners, and Colorado-based Fentress Architects. The Foster bid is supplemented by additional Chicago talent from Epstein and JGMA, the Studio Gang-headed effort partners with designers at Corgan Associates, STL Architects, and Solomon Cordwell Buenz, and SOM will also be joined by Ross Barney Architects and Arup.

Perhaps equally impressive is the number of architectural heavyweights comprising the seven bids that did not make the cut. Notable names left off the shortlist include Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), Perkins+Will, HOK, Gensler, Grimshaw Architects, Studio Fuksas, FGP Atelier, Goettsch Partners, and Rafael Viñoly.

Arguably most surprising is the exclusion of Chicago’s own Helmut Jahn, whose eponymous firm designed O’Hare’s iconic two-concourse Terminal 1. Passing over a local team with such close ties to the existing airport suggests officials have a desire to take O’Hare in a “new architectural direction,” wrote Chicago Tribune columnist Blair Kamin.

A conceptual rendering of the new global terminal and two new satellite councourses.
O’Hare 21

The remaining architects will compete to design the O’Hare Global Terminal, a massive complex that will replace the aging Terminal 2. The new facility is part of the City of Chicago’s ambitious O’Hare 21 initiative which represents the airport’s first major overhaul in 25 years. It will join a planned expansion of Terminal 5 and renovations to Terminals 1 and 3.

“Chicago has called upon some of the world’s best designers to help carry out our vision for the new O’Hare Global Terminal—the key to a bigger, better and more modern O’Hare for the 21st century,” said Mayor Emanuel in a statement released Wednesday. “By the end of this competition, we will change the trajectory of O’Hare forever, and ensure Chicago remains a leading hub for travelers around the world.”

Officials will display design models from each team at various locations throughout the city to collect public feedback in the coming months. Mayor Emanuel intends to decide on a lead architect before he leaves office at the conclusion of his second term in the spring. The city hopes to complete the massive, multiphase project by 2028 at the earliest.

The mayor’s announcement came at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new multi-modal facility at O’Hare’s eastern edge. Designed by Ross Barney Architects, the 2.5-million-square-foot facility consolidates rental car operations and includes 2,600 additional parking spaces.