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Architect Jeanne Gang’s team chosen to design O’Hare’s new ‘global terminal’

Studio ORD's proposal for the design of a new "global terminal at O'Hare International Airport was unveiled in January. The terminal will replace the existing Terminal 2, and allow passengers to connect directly between domestic and international flights without traveling to the international terminal, also known as Terminal 5. | Courtesy of City of Chicago

After a secretive City Hall selection process, a team that includes renowned Chicago architect Jeanne Gang was chosen Wednesday to design the new, $2.2 billion global terminal at O’Hare Airport that is the centerpiece of an $8.7 billion expansion project.

Studio ORD had been one of five teams chosen as finalists to design the new terminal. Renderings of their proposals were unveiled in January.

Its airy, futuristic design includes indoor trees and grass, an homage to O’Hare’s roots as Orchard Field.

On the Studio Gang website, Gang was quoted as saying that every aspect of the winning design was “focused on creating a uniquely Chicago experience.”

“It embodies the city’s fundamental geographic asset: a place of convergence of paths of movement both natural and manmade,” Gang was quoted as saying.

“Our design creates a new Chicago neighborhood that reflects the culture, traditions and diversity of the city. Its exposed structure, interior streets, and bustling activity express our city’s trajectory as a center of movement, exchange, and growth.”

RELATED: City Council OKs massive O’Hare expansion plan

Mayor Rahm Emanuel discussed the competition that included “five great teams from around the globe” at a transportation event at the Standard Club sponsored by Crain’s Chicago Business.

“We ran an international competition for a unique airport in a unique city known for its architectural taste,” the mayor said.

“The team that was selected also represents all parts of the city. It’s a diverse team with a unique history in aviation and architecture.”

He added, “I’m going [out] on a limb. I don’t know this to be true. But, I also think it’s one of the first major terminals being built and led by a woman architectural firm in the world.”

The city will now enter into exclusive negotiations with Gang-led Studio ORD. It’s a partnership that includes: Solomon Cordwell Buenz; Corgan; Milhouse Engineering and Construction, and STL Architects.

A second team will be chosen from among the four remaining finalists to design a pair of satellite concourses expected to be built west of Terminal 1.

The mayor’s plan calls for demolishing Terminal 2 and replacing it with a new “global terminal” shared by United and American Airlines that would accept both domestic and international flights.

When that project is completed by 2028, O’Hare would become the nation’s first “global alliance hub” with domestic airlines and their international carrier partners all in the same terminal.

“What it permits you to do is not walk around the airport with a FitBit….You can get off an international flight on American or one of their alliance partners and get on a domestic flight in the same terminal. Same thing for United,” the mayor said.

“Chicago will now have two international terminals with domestic connections all in the same terminal. That is a major transformation not seen anywhere else in the United States or North America.”

Studio ORD got the “highest cumulative score” from an evaluation committee that included experts in terminal construction, airport operations, architecture, planning and budgets, the city said.

The selection was based on multiple criteria, including ability to deliver the project on time and on budget and involve unprecedented local participation.

The description of the project on the Studio Gang website talks about a global terminal and global concourse that “celebrates Chicago’s history as a city shaped by lines of movement. … 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.”

Gang is the famed Chicago architect who helped transform Meigs Field into a nature preserve.

“Beneath the Oculus, a vibrant new neighborhood unfolds around an expansive Central Green that can support pop-up events, music, and informal gathering. The plantings extend through the terminal’s three branches, framing boulevards of restaurants, shops, and retail that together evoke a lively Chicago street,” the website states.

“Surrounding the Oculus, a pleated roof of long-span steel trusses clad in wood maximizes natural daylight and energy efficiency. The roof is supported by Y-shaped columns spaced over 100 feet apart that distribute the structural load to maximize open circulation and ensure flexibility to accommodate change over the terminal’s lifespan.”

The website notes that a “light-filled mezzanine above the concourse” would house 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,” the website states.

On the day he pulled the plug on his own re-election bid, Emanuel made the selection of an architect one of four things he wanted to accomplish before leaving office on May 20.

That item can now be crossed off the mayor’s to-do list. But the selection process has been controversial because it was shrouded in secrecy.

Public feedback generated by models of the five finalist design was “taken into consideration.” But, it was not definitive.

In fact, Studio ORD finished third among the 41,000 respondents surveyed. The team led by world-renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava finished first.