Press Releases

SOM Reveals Design for New O'Hare Global Terminal in Chicago

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has unveiled the finalists in a competition to design a new Global Terminal at O’Hare International Airport. A team led by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM), including renowned firms Ross Barney Architects and Arup, showcased its bold, honest vision for the new O’Hare Global Terminal, a locally-inspired, globally-informed design that represents Chicago’s history of innovation and role as a leading global center.

“The O’Hare Global Terminal is a once-in-a-lifetime project that demands the best in aviation experience and an in-depth understanding, respect, and passion for Chicago’s global leadership in design and culture,” said SOM Design Partner Scott Duncan. “Working with our long-time aviation partner, Arup, and local design leaders Ross Barney Architects, we’ve assembled a team with an unmatched blend of local knowledge and international experience. We are proud to share a design for O’Hare that is focused on people, sustainability, and the future of Chicago.”

SOM’s design emphasizes sustainability, improving the passenger experience, and enhancing airport operations. Inspired by O’Hare’s history as “Orchard Field,” where the airport’s call signal “ORD” originated, the new Global Terminal is defined by light-filled spaces and amenities that reflect Chicago’s cultural heritage and vision for the future.

Upon entering the terminal, passengers are welcomed to a soaring, double-height gathering space, where clear sight lines lead through check-in and security. Skylights deliver an even, diffused light throughout, reducing the building’s environmental footprint.

The check-in, security and baggage claim halls are covered by a single, undulating, lattice-like long-span roof punctuated by skylights and supported by a series of elegant tree-like columns, recalling the site’s history as an orchard. To either side of the check-in hall, visitors are invited to take pause in a landscaped prairie replete with local Illinois plants and grasses, offering opportunities for respite.

Designed to meet the needs of travelers from all regions, the retail and concourse areas offer unique amenities to create a local Chicago experience. In the Neighborhood, the Global Terminal’s retail and culinary hub, passengers can experience a taste of Chicago’s food and arts scene with shops, restaurants, and entertainment drawn from across the city, from Wicker Park to Pilsen, and Little Italy to Andersonville.

The Orchard gate concourse reimagines the airport waiting room experience. Here, you can go outside in a tree-lined garden open to the sky while waiting for your flight, and read a book while resting in a hammock. Infusing the concourse with greenery from the outside in, the airport is transformed into a place of rejuvenation. Nearby, spaces for work and play abound: enclosed and open-air children’s spaces, personal cabins, and interactive digital media spaces provide for the needs of travelers of all kinds. Blending passenger experience with operational efficiency, the Orchard brings the best of global airport amenities to Chicago—a first in the United States—offering spaces for fitness and meditation, multimedia and movie zones, and opportunities for rest and relaxation.

The Arrivals experience provided by the Global Terminal will be unmatched. No longer framed by low-ceilinged hallways, international passengers will have views of the Chicago skyline before entering the baggage claim hall, under the same soaring ceiling as departing passengers. To either side, passengers see a prairie landscape. Once through Customs passengers are in the same soaring Arrivals Hall through which they passed at the beginning of their journey.

Dedicated facilities to smooth flight connections, increased aircraft gates, efficient baggage and other airline operations and other state-of-the-art aviation technologies will make this terminal efficient to operate and easy to use.

The Orchard combines the best Chicago has to offer with a design led by a team with unparalleled local and international expertise. It is a bold, honest, and timeless work of civic architecture in the best Chicago tradition. Designed for seamless operation of the powerful hub in Chicago for the nation’s top two airlines and their alliance partners, the Orchard exemplifies the goals of the O’Hare 21 expansion plan. As the O’Hare campus grows, the Orchard will cultivate the airport’s success, allowing for future expansion and change, providing financial viability, maximizing design efficiency, and serving our shared environment.

Learn more about SOM’s proposal here:

About Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) is one of the leading architecture, interior design, engineering, and urban planning firms in the world. Since its founding in Chicago more than 80 years ago, SOM has earned a reputation for design excellence with a portfolio that includes some of the most important architectural accomplishments of the 20th and 21st centuries, and has been a leader in the research and development of specialized technologies, new processes and innovative ideas, many of which have had a palpable and lasting impact on the design profession and the physical environment. The firm has shaped Chicago’s skyline, as well as many of its notable public spaces, including the master plan for Millenium Park. SOM has the richest portfolio of US gateway terminals and noted international terminals across the globe. The firm’s longstanding leadership in design and building technology has been honored with nearly 2,000 awards for quality, innovation, and management. The American Institute of Architects has recognized SOM twice with its highest honor, the Architecture Firm Award—in 1962 and again in 1996. The firm maintains offices in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., London, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Mumbai.

About Arup

Arup is the world’s leading airport engineering company. SOM and Arup have collaborated on more than 20 high-profile airport projects in the US and around the world. Arup provides planning, engineering, design, and consulting services for the most prominent projects and sites in the built environment. Since its founding in 1946, the firm has consistently delivered technical excellence, innovation, and value to its clients, while maintaining its core mission of shaping a better world. Arup opened its first US office more than 30 years ago and now employs 1,300 people in the Americas. The firm's employee-ownership structure promotes ongoing investment in joint research to yield better outcomes that benefit its clients and partners. Visit Arup's website,, and the online magazine of Arup in the Americas,, for more information.

About Ross Barney Architects

Ross Barney Architects is dedicated to designing public places and spaces, including Chicago’s Riverwalk. From community and campus buildings for premier academic and research institutions to groundbreaking transit stations that connect vibrant neighborhoods, the studio has produced distinctive structures that have become cultural icons. The work of Ross Barney Architects has an international reputation in design of institutional and public buildings and has been published in national and international journals, books, newspapers and web media. Ross Barney Architects’ buildings have received significant regional, national and international design awards, honors and recognitions, including four Institute Honor Awards from the American Institute of Architects, two World Architecture Festival High Commendations and over 35 design awards from AIA Chicago.