The City of Chicago and its airline partners are moving forward with plans for a historic transformation of Chicago O'Hare International Airport with the biggest terminal expansion ever. The new terminal area plan, coined O'Hare 21, will consist of renovations to Terminals 1 and 3, upgrades and expansion to Terminal 5, and the demolition of Terminal 2 which will be rebuilt to include a brand new international arrivals facility. These plans are set to grow O'Hare's overall terminal square footage from 5.5 million to 8.9 million square feet, or around 60 percent. In 2017 the City of Chicago announced a call for concept designs for the Global Terminal and Concourse project. Studio ORD, a fully-integrated joint venture between Corgan, Studio Gang, Solomon Cordwell Buenz (SCB), Milhouse Engineering, and STLArchitects, has developed a comprehensive design proposal for the O'Hare 21.
Studio ORD’s design for the new O’Hare Global Terminal and Global Concourse celebrates Chicago’s history as a city shaped by lines of movement and extends that legacy for the 21st
century. Like the confluence of the Chicago River, the design’s converging three branches create a central hub that establishes a vibrant new neighborhood in the heart of O’Hare’s campus.
Smoothly bending to increase efficiency, wayfinding, and connectivity, the tripartite design merges terminal and concourse into a single building that is uniquely evocative of the city of Chicago. At the branches’ confluence, a dramatic Oculus welcomes visitors under a six-pointed glass skylight whose geometry references the Chicago flag. Surrounding the Oculus is a rhythmic, pleated roof of long-span steel trusses. Clad in wood and emphasizing the building’s curving form, the pleats are spaced and oriented to maximize natural daylight and energy efficiency. From inside, their directionality gently guides passengers through the space. When seen from above, the building’s form greets passengers with an easily recognizable, distinctly Chicago icon: the city’s “Y symbol,” or Municipal Device, that represents the branching Chicago River.
The roof is supported by Y-shaped columns spaced over 100 feet apart that distribute the structural load, maximizing open circulation and ensuring flexibility to accommodate change over the terminal’s lifespan.
Beneath the Oculus, a vibrant new neighborhood unfolds around the expansive Central Green. With lush planters, trees, and comfortable street furniture, the Central Green is a flexible space that can support pop-up events, music, and informal gathering. The greenery extends through the terminal’s three branches, framing boulevards of restaurants, shops, and retail that together evoke a lively Chicago neighborhood street.
A light-filled Mezzanine above the concourse houses ticketing and security for departing passengers. Culminating in a dramatic Overlook, the Mezzanine offers expansive views of the airfield beyond and of the neighborhood and gates below, helping passengers orient themselves and heightening the excitement of travel.