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Help Wanted: World-Renowned Architect to Design O’Hare Expansion

Sprawling $8.7 Billion Plan is 73-Year-Old Airport’s Costliest and Broadest
June 12, 2018
Want to design the $8.7 billion O’Hare International Airport expansion plan? The Chicago Department of Aviation issued a pre-alert Monday that a request for qualifications for lead architectural design services will be issued June 18.

Mayor Rahm Emmanuel hopes the RFQ, which is likely to lead to a request for proposals, will spur a worldwide design competition for what’s called the O’Hare 21 Terminal Expansion Project. The bidding will be a two-step process for the Terminal Area Plan, or TAP, at O’Hare. It’s unclear when a contract might actually be issued.

"This is an opportunity to write the next chapter in Chicago’s legacy of architectural ingenuity while sharing the iconic architecture and design Chicago is famous for with visitors from across the country and around the world," Emmanuel said in a press release.

The eight-year O’Hare expansion program is projected to be the largest and costliest in the airport’s 73-year history, adding some 3.1 million square feet - enlarging the footprint by 72 percent - and expanding the total gate count to 220, about 40 more than today. The amount of plane parking space is expected to swell 25 percent, according to the aviation department. A huge technological component is aimed at speeding up security screening, checking bags and getting through the airport.

The city wants to create a state-of-the-art "global terminal," the first in the world, by replacing the existing Terminal 2 between United Airlines’ hub at Terminal 1 and American Airlines’ and other large air carriers’ major presences at Terminal 3. It’s hoped that it will do away with the long jogs from Terminal 5, the international terminal separated from the first four domestic terminals, for connecting flights. The preliminary plans call for a large customs and immigration facility to be part of the new terminal and large expansions of all three terminals.

The O’Hare 21 plan has been long in the making, starting with former mayor Richard M. Daly’s efforts that began in 2001 with the O’Hare Modernization Program. Though development plans didn’t get put in place, Daly was able to use eminent domain to secure 400 acres in Bensenville, located on O’Hare’s edge, and raze more than 500 homes and commercial buildings. The property grab even led to the relocation of a Bensenville cemetery. The city built three new east-west runways and expanded a fourth one for a total of five east-west runways.

A sixth east-west runway is under construction and scheduled to be completed by 2020. The new runway would allow O’Hare to shut down a second diagonal runway at the west end, clearing space for the larger global terminal and two new concourses, according to the aviation department.

Chicago has sought out the world’s best architects before to design an important piece of the city’s landscape - and in this case, its gateway and welcome port.

The competition for the Chicago Tribune Tower, completed in 1925, is probably the most celebrated. Known for publisher Col. Robert McCormick’s entreaty to architects to create"“the most beautiful office building in the world," the competition attracted 240 entries from 23 countries.

The winning entry, by New York architects Raymond Hood and John Mead Howells, is considered"one of the most enduringly influential narratives in 20th Century architecture, key to understanding the skylines of cities all over the world," according to the architecture blog Arch Daily. Even the rejected designs, from the likes of Eliel Saarinen and Adolph Loos, have had impact on the design of urban buildings, both old and new, throughout the world.

Jennifer Waters, Chicago Reporter  CoStar Group   

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