First Class Talent

Chicago culls its O’Hare expansion shortlist to five big-name firms

Architecture Midwest News Transportation
The long list of 12 finalists for the redesigned O'Hare terminal have been culled to only five. Pictured: Gershwin Tunnel connects Concourse B and C below O'Hare's terminal 1. (Ben Wicks/Unsplash)
The long list of 12 finalists for the redesigned O'Hare terminal have been culled to only five. Pictured: Gershwin Tunnel connects Concourse B and C below O'Hare's terminal 1. (Ben Wicks/Unsplash)

Five finalists have been selected in the competition to design the new $8.7 billion expansion of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, narrowing the field from the longlist of 12 released in September.

The shortlist features a mix of local names and international studios: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), Santiago Calatrava, Foster + Partners, Chicago’s own Studio Gang, and Colorado’s Fentress Architects.

The expansion, part of a modernization initiative dubbed O’Hare 21 by outgoing mayor Rahm Emanuel, will totally replace the V-shaped Terminal 2, a holdover from the airport’s opening in 1944. O’Hare is one of the busiest airports in the world and currently services nearly 80 million passengers a year, and O’Hare 21 will expand the airport’s footprint from 5.5 million square feet to 8.9 million square feet.

An aerial site plan showing how O'Hare 21 will alter the airport's footprint.

An aerial site plan showing how O’Hare 21 will alter the airport’s footprint (Courtesy O’Hare 21)

Such a large project means that these teams likely won’t be going it alone. Fentress is joined by Brook Architecture, Garza Architects, and engineering and architecture firm EXP, Calatrava will be working with local firm HKS, while Foster + Partners has teamed up with local firms Epstein and JGMA, and Studio Gang has partnered with Corgan Associates, Solomon Cordwell Buenz, and STL Architects. SOM will also be joined by Ross Barney Architects and Arup in their bid. After a review by the Department of Aviation, one team will be chosen to design the Terminal 2–replacing O’Hare Global Terminal, while a second will be tapped to design the airport’s two new satellite concourses.

Perhaps what’s most interesting is who didn’t make the cut. BIG was knocked out, as were HOK and Gensler. Even Helmut Jahn, a Chicago wunderkind who designed O’Hare’s Terminal 1 in 1986, wasn’t chosen.

Now that the shortlist has been chosen, an official selection committee of business, civic, and transportation leaders from Chicago will choose who ultimately gets to design the new facilities (with local architecture firms and cultural institutions providing technical support). Mayor Emanuel is pushing the city to choose before he leaves in May of 2019, and if all goes as planned, the multi-phase O’Hare 21 should be complete by 2026.

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