top of page


By Patricia Szpekowski

The O’Hare International Airport of the future has come one step closer to the present with a complete transformation underway to realize a new vision of air transport in Chicago. 

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) unveiled five architecture finalists in January 2019 who provided design renderings and models representing the potential future O’Hare Global Terminal. At 2.25 million square feet, the new terminal will be among the largest in the U.S. and enable passengers to make connections between domestic and international flights with ease.

“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 the tradition of innovation and world-leading architectural history.”

The five proposing teams vying for the opportunity to change the face of O’Hare are: Fentress-EXP-Brook-Garza Joint Venture Partners; Foster Epstein Moreno Joint Venture Partners; Santiago Calatrava; Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill; and Studio ORD Joint Venture Partners.

Each of the architectural teams provided their own vision and insights for their designs, highlighting sweeping roofs, arches and skylights, vast open spaces, pockets of nature, sustainability, dramatic views, and efficient flow.

The new O’Hare Global Terminal is part of the historic “O’Hare 21” plan in which the City of Chicago and its airline partners have agreed to an $8.5-billion capital improvement plan to transform O’Hare with the biggest terminal expansion ever and modernization for the 21st Century. 

A new Terminal Area Plan for O’Hare will completely redevelop the terminals and concourses, with Terminal 5 to undergo an upgrade and expansion, Terminal 2 will be replaced with a new O’Hare Global Terminal, and renovations made to Terminals 1 and 3. 

The upgrades will increase gate frontage by 25 percent for fewer delays and grow O’Hare’s overall terminal square footage by more than 60 percent, from 5.5 to 8.9 million square feet. Millions of O’Hare travelers will enjoy an improved passenger experience through the additional modernization of existing terminals and new amenities.

Along with travelers, Chicago residents, businesses, and visitors all stand to benefit from O’Hare 21. The multibillion dollar investment will deliver improved service, more connectivity, enhanced technology, and tens of thousands of construction jobs for the community.

“The new O’Hare Global Terminal is at the center of our plans to transform O’Hare from curb to gate,” said Jamie L. Rhee, Commissioner of CDA. “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.”

The search for a lead architect was launched by a Request for Qualifications in June 2018 by the CDA through the Chicago Department of Procurement Services. In response, teams submitted Statements of Qualifications, and five teams were later shortlisted based on the city’s evaluation. The City’s intention is to select two design teams: one to design the O’Hare Global Terminal and Concourse, and another to design two new satellite concourses.

Residents as well as the traveling public were encouraged to give feedback by taking a one-time survey in January. The survey included five questions about the design concepts, as well as the new terminal features and expansion plan to elevate the overall O’Hare experience. The feedback will be considered in the final architect selection.

To further give visibility for the five competing designs, five 3D models were on display at the Chicago Architecture Center (CAC). “The Chicago Architecture Center is proud to host the designs that will set the trajectory of O’Hare for years to come,” said Lynn Osmond, president and CEO of the CAC. “All Chicagoans have a stake in O’Hare, as a vital economic engine and an exciting gateway to our city — a place where iconic architecture reflects Chicago’s rich legacy of design innovation. The CAC, Chicago’s home for debating design, is thrilled to help Chicagoans have their say on this next great initiative for our city.”

The five Terminals models were also on display at a special exhibit at O’Hare’s Terminal 2 in January and by online viewing. The public voting period at ended on January 23.

The selection of the architect for the O’Hare Global Terminal project remains a top priority and is anticipated to be completed in 2028.

Images included here are renderings submitted by the architect team finalists.

bottom of page