A Closer Look at O’Hare Expansion Proposals


Some of the world’s most distinguished architectural firms are competing for the $8.5 billion expansion plan for Terminal 2 at O’Hare International Airport.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has opened the competition to the public, directing people to the Chicago Department of Aviation’s website to vote on five final designs.

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“I do want to underscore, to my knowledge, this is the first time any terminal has ever been submitted to the public for commentary and for vote,” Emanuel said.

What’s unclear is how much those votes will influence his committee making the final recommendation – and who exactly is on that committee.

All five proposals include ultra-modern, undulating designs. And the majority of the submissions rely heavily on the use of greenery and trees – an attempt to essentially bring the outdoors inside. One proposal even includes hammocks strung on trees.

What’s not included in the plans are many of the details – like how security will be handled.

The massive project is scheduled to open in 2028. Terminal 2 will be the first of its kind in the U.S., with both domestic and international flights under one roof.

“You can get off United for domestic flights and connect to an international flight or vice versa without your Fitbit,” joked Emanuel.

“We’re going from 4.5 million square feet to 7.2 million square feet in our terminals,” he added. “We’re going from no new gates in three decades to adding 25 new gates in the next decade.”

“If you look at what we’re doing at O’Hare, we added Midway’s capacity to O’Hare,” Emanuel said.

Chicago Tribune Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Blair Kamin joins us to discuss the proposals.

The five designs

Team 1: Fentress-EXP-Brook-Garza offers a unique rolling exterior.

The O’Hare expansion proposal from Fentress-EXP-Brook-Garza Joint Venture (Chicago Department of Aviation)The O’Hare expansion proposal from Fentress-EXP-Brook-Garza Joint Venture (Chicago Department of Aviation)

Team 2: The proposal from Foster Epstein Moreno JV includes a huge multistory window and stage-like experience to watch takeoffs and landings, what the firm is calling, “a theater for aviation.” 

The O’Hare expansion proposal by London-based Foster Epstein Moreno Joint Venture (Chicago Department of Aviation) The O’Hare expansion proposal by London-based Foster Epstein Moreno Joint Venture (Chicago Department of Aviation)

Team 3: Studio ORD brings the outside in with many trees inside the sprawling terminal – a possible reference to the former life of O’Hare as an orchard.

The O’Hare expansion proposal from Studio ORD (Chicago Department of Aviation)The O’Hare expansion proposal from Studio ORD (Chicago Department of Aviation)

Team 4: A proposal by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the firm that designed the Sears Tower, includes hammocks strung on trees for passengers to relax while they wait for their flights.

The O’Hare expansion proposal from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (Chicago Department of Aviation)The O’Hare expansion proposal from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (Chicago Department of Aviation)

Team 5: The design by Santiago Calatrava, known locally for his failed Chicago Spire project, resembles the Concorde airplane from the outside.

The O’Hare expansion proposal from Santiago Calatrava (Chicago Department of Aviation)The O’Hare expansion proposal from Santiago Calatrava (Chicago Department of Aviation)

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City Asks Public to Weigh In on O’Hare Expansion Designs

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$841M Parking, Rental-Car Center Opens at O’Hare Airport


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