‘Critical moment’ for $8.7B O’Hare Airport expansion project

Chicago-based architectural giant Skidmore, Owings & Merrill signs a five-year, $140 million contract to design two new satellite concourses.

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A rendering of the new global terminal at O’Hare Airport.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill has signed a five-year, $140 million contract to design two new satellite concourses as part of the massive O’Hare Airport expansion project.


Chicago-based architectural giant Skidmore, Owings & Merrill will be paid $140 million to design two new satellite concourses at O’Hare Airport that will cost $1.4 billion, accommodate wide-body jets and be twice as roomy as existing concourses.

The five-year contract — and the selection of HNTB to serve as lead civil engineer — was hailed as a “critical milestone” in the $8.7 billion O’Hare expansion project former Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushed through the City Council before leaving office.

Skidmore and HNTB will join a team that includes renowned Chicago architect Jeanne Gang, whose firm was chosen to design the new $2.2 billion global terminal at O’Hare that will be the centerpiece of the massive expansion project.

“Having our three lead designers in place and working in parallel is a critical moment for the overall success of the O’Hare 21 program,” Aviation Commissioner Jamie Rhee said in a news release.

“With Studio ORD and SOM providing inspiration above ground and HNTB lending their considerable expertise below ground, we have assembled a team of unparalleled vision and talent and every traveler who uses O’Hare will benefit.”

Rhee vowed to deliver the complex expansion project “on schedule and on budget” without a hiccup.

“All three designers will contribute significantly to this goal through their designs and input to detailed implementation plans,” Rhee said.

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

Ten days after taking office, Mayor Lori Lightfoot awarded a $160 million contract Gang’s firm to design the global terminal.

Lightfoot forged ahead, even though she was not happy with the secretive City Hall selection process masterminded by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel that culminated in Studio Gang being declared the highest-scoring design team.

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 received the second-highest score and, therefore, has received the runner-up design prize.

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

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 additional concessions for restaurants and retail stores.

Passengers will use underground tunnels to access the new concourses until the global terminal is completed. After that, a tram will connect air travelers to the new concourses.

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

It will handle domestic arrivals. International arrivals will be limited to so-called “pre-cleared markets,” meaning passengers have already passed through 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 restrictions.

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