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Skidmore, Owings & Merrill tapped for $1.4B O’Hare concourse project

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The two satellite buildings will break ground in 2022, ahead of the Studio Gang designed Global Terminal

The new buildings offer twice the width of a typical passenger concourse at O’Hare and include glass-walled tree gardens open to the sky.
Courtesy SOM

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) lost to a rival team led by hometown challenger Studio Gang in a competition to design O’Hare International Airport’s massive Global Terminal project. However, the Chicago-based architecture firm will create a pair of connecting concourses, the city’s Department of Aviation announced Monday.

Slated for sites just west of Terminal 2, the new satellite buildings—tentatively dubbed S1 and S2—will span a combined 1.2 million square feet and connect to the upcoming O’Hare Global Terminal via underground tunnels similar to Concourse C at Terminal 1. The two structures will cost an estimated $1.4 billion.

SOM’s selection means the local firm bested big-name starchitects such as Santiago Calatrava, Norman Foster, and Curtis Fentress. Skidmore’s vision for the Global Terminal paid homage to the airport’s old name, Orchard Field, by featuring glass-enclosed groves of trees and native prairie landscaping.

Many of these earlier design features were worked into SOM’s concourse project, which will also “follow the tone and pallet” established by Studio Gang’s terminal, a city spokesman told Crain’s. The councourses are wide and bright and provide open-air gardens for passengers to venture outside within the airport’s security zone, according to SOM.

The design includes enclosed and open-air children’s play places, workspaces, and family areas.

The satellite buildings are expected to break ground in 2022 and will need to be completed for work to begin on the larger Global Terminal. They will allow the old Terminal 2 building to be demolished and reopened by 2028 without sacrificing any gate capacity during construction, according to the Department of Aviation.

The new terminal and adjoining concourses are part of the city’s larger $8.5 billion O’Hare 21 modernization effort, which kicked off in 2017 with a five-gate addition to Terminal 3. Work is also currently underway on a $1.2 billion, Muller & Muller-designed expansion of Terminal 5.

A conceptual plan showing the new Global Terminal (right) and satellite councourses (left and center).
Chicago Department of Aviation

This post was updated with additional information and renderings provided by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.