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Competition: O’Hare Airport Global Terminal, Chicago

The City of Chicago has launched an international contest for a $8.5 billion expansion of O’Hare International Airport (Deadline: 9 August)

Open to ‘world-class talents’, the competition will select an architect-led team to replace O’Hare’s existing Terminal 2 building, which will be demolished. Up to five teams will be invited to participate in the latest contest following an open Request for Qualifications round.

The winning team will deliver a landmark new ‘global terminal’ and concourse accepting both domestic and international flights, while a second placed team will be commissioned to deliver two nearby satellite concourses connected to the main building by underground tunnel. Designs should build upon the city’s ‘unparalleled legacy of leading architectural achievements’.

O’Hare International Airport

O’Hare International Airport

Source: Image by Phillip Capper

O’Hare International Airport

In its brief, the city says it is ‘seeking to engage world-class terminal architectural talent capable of delivering the new O’Hare GIobal Terminal and O’Hare Global Concourse with a goal of redefining the image, technology and level of service for international terminal development …

‘The intent of this Request for Qualifications is to identify qualified respondents having demonstrated experience, expertise and resources to provide the design, engineering and construction administration services for the following types of projects: demolishing existing Terminal 2 and replacing it with a new international terminal facility constructing, new concourses, modification of some existing concourses and inter-terminal connectors.’

O’Hare, on the north-west side of Chicago, was created in the post-war era as a pioneering modern airport facility featuring concourses, highway access, underground refuelling systems, and seven runways.

The enormous 3,087ha airport was the busiest in the world from 1963 to 1998, and today is the sixth busiest with around 79.8 million passengers a year. Both terminals 2 and 3 have yet to be upgraded from their original design.

O’Hare International Airport

O’Hare International Airport

Source: Image by Marc E Gottlieb

O’Hare International Airport

The new buildings will provide a ‘convenient, functional, and intuitive’ passenger experience featuring enhanced security and 24-hour customer facilities.

Proposals will be expected to efficiently harness space, maximise non-airline revenue sources, improve sustainability and deliver a ‘timeless design’ reflective of the wider city’s architectural innovation.

The competition comes two years after US firm Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects beat Adjaye Associates in the competition to design the Barack Obama Foundation’s new presidential library in Chicago.

How to apply


The deadline for applications is 9 August

Contact details


View the contract notice for more information

Q&A with Robert Rivkin

Chicago’s deputy mayor discusses his ambitions for the contest

Why are you holding an international competition for a new global terminal and concourse at O’Hare International Airport?

As the global gateway to Chicago and often the first impression visitors from around the world have of our city, O’Hare’s new structures will continue Chicago’s legacy of innovative, distinctive, modern architecture.

The City is seeking to engage world-class terminal architectural talent capable of delivering the new O’Hare Global Terminal (OGT) and O’Hare Global Concourse (OGC) with a goal of redefining the image, technology and level of service for international terminal development. We recognise that many ground-breaking airport terminal projects which have taken place over the past decade have been spearheaded by a number of renowned international as well as U.S.-based firms—some of which are based in Chicago. For the design of O’Hare’s terminal expansion, the inclusion of firms is important for establishing plans that are representative of Chicago’s distinctive character and its identity as a global transportation hub and architectural capital.

We are confident that this competition, which calls upon ideas from here as well as around the globe, will yield the premiere designs and concepts to grow O’Hare and ensure Chicago remains a leading destination for global air travel.

What is your vision for the new terminal?

As Mayor Emanuel has said, this competition is a once in a lifetime opportunity for architects to take on a top role in designing an unprecedented terminal expansion that will be seen by millions from around the world and contribute to Chicago’s rich architectural legacy.

The City’s vision for a new O’Hare Global Terminal draws upon our status as an architectural, as well as an aviation hub. As the birthplace of modern architecture, Chicago boasts the works of world-class architects including Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe and Frank Ghery—with significant works gracing downtown, along the lake, and throughout the neighbourhoods. There is no better way to enhance Chicago’s impressive portfolio than to build a new, innovative global Terminal at O’Hare, which will be seen by tens of millions of passengers each year.

That is why the city is calling for bold ideas that will transform O’Hare with cutting-edge facilities, latest technology, and security innovations to provide travellers with the greatest ease and convenience.

Looking ahead with the terminal expansion and the overarching O’Hare 21 program, we’re focused on ensuring sustainability throughout all designs. Over the years, the City of Chicago and its Department of Aviation have continuously focused on opportunities to enhance sustainability to align with Mayor Emanuel’s vision and leadership in making Chicago the most sustainable city in the country. This includes investments in new sustainable infrastructure and programs which have reduced electricity and natural gas usage by more than 10 per cent since 2011—making Chicago’s busy aviation system more environmentally friendly even as passenger volumes have risen.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

The city hopes all interested teams will submit their ideas. We aren’t going to establish a preference for specific teams, nor will we rule anything out in this competition. We are, however, encouraging that all teams consider joining with small, local firms, by having the evaluation criteria incentivise experienced local participation in the project.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

The O’Hare Terminal Expansion (otherwise known as the Terminal Area Plan, or ‘TAP’) program and this RFQ process will involve Architectural Design Work on the new O’Hare Global Terminal, the Global Concourse, and satellite concourses 1 and 2 over the next eight years. As a component of the TAP programme, there may be some smaller design opportunities for the various airline and tenant projects, including airline lounge spaces and concession design opportunities. 

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