Investigating Chicago’s Most Complex Infrastructure Issue

The O’Hare International Airport Competition


Winning entry – Studio-ORD


The updating and modernization of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport has been well overdue. Aside from occasional problems caused by Chicago’s winter storms, congestion at the airport has led air travelers to avoid the airport when catching a connecting flight is on the agenda. So Chicago, noted for its modern architecture and the home of several high-profile architecture firms, decided to turn to an invited competition for a solution to these issues.


   Competitions in Chicago in the recent past have been anything but encouraging, especially when transparency is an issue. During the competition for the Obama Center on the South Side, the Obama Foundation, which was responsible for the administration of that “competition,” was anything but a model of transparency; and to this day, none of the finalist designs, other than that of the winner, have seen the light of day. In the case of the O’Hare project, videos submitted by the five finalists teams were on public display, and the public was even asked to vote for their favorite.


The five teams shortlisted for the competition were:


• Studio ORD – Studio Gang, Solomon Cordwell Buenz, Corgan, Milhouse Engineering and STL Architects
• Fentress Architects, EXP, Brook, Garza
• Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM)
• Foster Epstein Moreno
• Santiago Calatrava


   This list is notable for who was there, and who was not. The lone Chicago firm with lots of expertise in this area not included was Jahn, which has been the author of some important airport projects in Germany—Munich and Frankfurt in particular—as well as its well received addition to the American Airlines Terminal at O’Hare several years ago.


Others include Rogers Stirk Harbour (RSH) of London—architects not only for the new Madrid airport, but a competition winner for Taiwan’s Taoyuaong Airport Terminal 3 over U.N. Studio and Foster and Partners;* Renzo Piano (Kansai International Airport); Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas (Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport); and Zaha Hadid Architects (Beijing Daxing International Airport).


  Of the five shortlisted firms with airport expertise, only the eventual winner ORD21, has had little experience with airport projects of this magnitude. The leader of the team, Studio Gang, therefore teamed with another Chicago firm with much experience in large projects, Solomon Cordwell Buenz. The inclusion of Foster, Fentress,** and SOM is logical in view of their numerous, high-profile projects. As for Calatrava, although the firm does have an airport in its portfolio, extreme cost overruns in other projects—Milwaukee Art Museum and New York’s Oculus at Ground Zero in particular—may have given other clients pause. When the Oculus overruns were mentioned on the Chicago website, Curbed, Calatrava insisted it was all the result of security concerns that arose after terrorist attacks had occurred.


  The results of the voting by the public, based on the videos, were hardly surprising: almost half voted for Calatrava, whereby the two Chicago firms, SOM and Studio-ORD didn’t fare well at all. Calatrava almost always does well in a beauty contest, but is less convincing to experts in the field when the project is examined in full detail. Here it would have been instructional for public understanding of the final decision if all of the entries could have been supplemented with extensive jury comments. But again, who was the Chicago jury?


* “An Illuminating Experience” in 2015 COMPETITIONS Annual, pp. 8-25
** “Variations on a Theme: Americans Win Airport Competition on the Pacific Rim,” by Roger Chandler in COMPETITIONS, Volume 3, #2 (1993) pp. 30-42 This airport in the Seoul metropolitan area now is designated as Incheon International Airport.





Studio-ORD – Studio Gang, Solomon Cordwell Buenz, Corgan, Milhouse Engineering and STL Architects






Above Images: courtesy Studio Gang ©Studio – ORD



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A Paean to its Founders in Weimar

New Bauhaus Museum Commemorates an Anniversary


2012 COMPETITIONS Annual with Weimar Bauhaus Competition WInner Design  Image: ©Heike Hanada

As projected, the Weimar Bauhaus Museum, one of two new Bauhaus museums scheduled to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus in Germany, has opened its doors in Weimar. The new Bauhaus Museum in Dessau, also the product of a competition, is to open in September of this year.

Before my visit to the Weimar museum, opinions about the museum’s design had appeared in various German publications, i.e., Süddeutsche Zeitung, Berliner Tagesspiegel, etc.—one in particular not very flattering. So my arrival in Weimar was filled with much anticipation, especially since we had covered the original competition in some detail in the 2012 COMPETITIONS Annual (above).


Front view of museum from city parcel  Photo: ©Andrew Alberts


What was initially absent from the competition proposal by the project’s author and competition winner, Heike Hanada, was a water feature leading from the street toward the entrance. The basin was not intended simply as an incidental landscape feature, but an integral design feature, focusing the attention from the street toward the museum. Instead one finds paving, the victim of a decision by the client, Klassik Stiftung Weimar, to split the site and stage an additional competition for the new parcel—and not extending an invitation to a member of the winning Hanada team to compete. The resulting design by the winner of the second competiiton, Vogt Landscape Architect of Zürich, completely ignored the Hanada design, instead covering the parcel at the street almost completely with light stone paving and a curious depression. The result? Attention from the street was no longer diverted away from the neighboring Nazi era, Mussolini style neighbor while focusing on the main event, but totally disrupting the harmonious scheme as envisioned by the winning entry. In no way did it suggest an extension of the landscape from the building to the street as an integral design element.

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