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Skidmore, Owings & Merrill chosen to design two new satellite concourses at O’Hare Airport

With loads of light and twice the width of existing concourses, the new concourses will add 1.2 million square feet to an expanding O’Hare.

Diagram of new terminal and satellite concourses planned at O’Hare International Airport.
Two satellite concourses will be connected by tunnels to the new global terminal at O’Hare International Airport.
Chicago Department of Aviation

Chicago-based architectural giant Skidmore, Owings & Merrill was chosen Monday to design two new satellite concourses at O’Hare International Airport that will cost $1.4 billion, accommodate wide-body jets and be twice as roomy as existing concourses.

Ten days after taking office, Mayor Lori Lightfoot awarded a $160 million contract to renowned Chicago architect Jeanne Gang to design the new $2.2 billion global terminal at O’Hare that will be the centerpiece of a massive expansion project.

Lightfoot had not been happy with the secretive City Hall selection process master-minded by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel that culminated in Studio Gang being declared the highest-scoring design team, but forged ahead nonetheless.

Under terms of that June 2018 request for qualifications, City Hall made a commitment to enter into negotiations with the second-highest scoring team to design the satellite concourses once the global terminal contract was awarded.

The Gang-led partnership that includes Solomon Cordwell Buenz, Corgan, Milhouse Engineering and Construction and STL Architects finished first in a subsequent request for proposals. Skidmore had the second-highest score and, therefore, has received the runner-up design prize.

Combined, the new concourses will add 1.2 million square feet to O’Hare; they will have loads of light and be twice as wide as existing concourses.

Together with the new global terminal that will replace Terminal 2, the concourses will provide 70 percent more passenger space and 75 percent more commercial space. That’s enough room to add 50 spots for restaurants and retail stores.

Passengers will initially reach the new concourses via tunnels until the new global terminal is built. Later, a tram is expected to connect air travelers to the new concourses.

Flexible gates at both new concourses will accommodate wide-body jets.

Construction of both concourses is expected to start before work on the new global terminal begins.

The concourse known as Satellite 2 will be completed first — by December 2024.

It will handle domestic arrivals and some international arrivals; those flights will be limited to so-called “pre-cleared markets,” where passengers pass through U.S. Customs before boarding their flights to O’Hare.

The concourse known as Satellite 1 is scheduled to open in December 2025 to arrivals and departures for both domestic and international flights, with no “pre-cleared” restrictions.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill designed Chicago’s best-known skyscrapers: Willis Tower, formerly known as Sears Tower, and the John Hancock Center.

The firm’s lead architect on the O’Hare concourse project could not be reached for comment.

A press release announcing the selection quoted Lightfoot as saying: “With more than 80 million passengers relying on O’Hare every year, Chicago and our airline partners are making necessary investments today to keep O’Hare #1 in the nation for connectivity and a competitive global hub for the future.”

Lightfoot stressed her commitment to making certain that residents from across the city benefit from the gravy train of jobs and contracts generated by the $8.7 billion O’Hare expansion project. That has long been a sore point with black and Hispanic aldermen.

The $8.7 billion O’Hare expansion plan calls for demolishing Terminal 2 and replacing it with a new “global terminal” shared by United and American airlines; that terminal 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,” Emanuel said on the day Gang was chosen as lead architect.

“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.”

Proposed design for new “global terminal” at O’Hare International Airport
Proposed design for new “global terminal” at O’Hare International Airport. This terminal will be designed by renowned local architect Jeanne Gang; two satellite concourses will be designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the city announced Monday.
Courtesy of City of Chicago