Hometown Architect Jeanne Gang Lands O’Hare Project

Chicago architect Jeanne Gang has landed the coveted O’Hare Global Terminal design project, part of a massive $8.5 billion airport expansion program. Her soaring glass and wood design will welcome in more light, nature and passengers to the nation’s busiest airport.

“As a native Chicagoan, I understand deeply the importance of O’Hare to our city’s identity, and I am honored that my hometown has provided my team the opportunity to realize a design that can demonstrate Chicago’s unique culture, traditions, and diversity to visitors and residents alike,” Gang said in a statement.

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Studio Gang was selected from a group of five finalists that submitted designs for the new terminal after an international call for proposals.

“During this historic competition, the world’s best architecture firms submitted their incredible visions for the world to see,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a statement. “We congratulate Studio ORD who has proven they have the experience, expertise, and the talent needed to work with the City of Chicago as we usher in a new era at O’Hare.”

“Los Angeles has expanded, Denver has expanded and Atlanta has made some big improvements,” said Chicago Tribune transportation reporter Mary Wisniewski.

“Chicago had to catch up. They had to do this in order to be on the same level with some of these other big airports in the country and around the world, according to airport experts I’ve talked to,” she said.

But the selection process was closed to the public and has been knocked by critics for a lack of transparency. According to the city, that decision was made to avoid outside influence and pressures on the anonymous committee members.

In an online competition, Gang’s design took third place with armchair architecture critics. More than 41,000 people voted – including 10,000 from Chicago.

Famed architect Helmut Jahn, who’s firm was not chosen as a finalist, shared his displeasure Thursday with Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin, who tweeted Jahn’s reaction to the selection of Gang’s design.

“I am embarrassed that some of my most respected colleagues have been misused to placate a premeditated decision not justified by design or experience. Such attitude has not made Chicago a capitol of world architecture. Hopefully, the next mayor will turn this around,” the tweet states.

“Part of [Gang’s] job is going to really be how to herd the cats that are these mega, mega, mega players,” said Ed Keegan, architect, architecture critic and contributing editor at Architect Magazine. “Big, big airlines have people with strong ideas and they’re not always going to be agreeing on things. Nor is the city going to be agreeing on these things. So that’s part of the challenge for any architect on any project but these large terminals are for more than just one client.”

The city hopes to break ground in 2023 and open the new terminal in 2028. It does not require City Council approval, according to city officials.

Video: More views of the winning Studio ORD design.

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