Santiago Calatrava’s design manages to focus on both efficient navigation and also beauty: the shopping and dining options are all located within interior gardens that are easily accessible by all airline gates.
Aesthetically, the design has a number of call-outs to its home city. The roof is meant to mimic the shell design of the Chicago seal and the on-site orchard pays tribute to the lush space of yesteryear that the airport now presides over. Harder to spot is the shape of the terminal and transportation center, a “Y,” according to DesignBoom, that recalls the same shape of the Chicago River and its distributaries.
Calatrava has a knack for making airports and train stations memorable, and it’s his strongly personal palette of white vertebrate structural elements enclosing large spaces that’s on display here. At the right scale (his airport in Bilbao, Spain, is one of them), he can create a thrilling communal space. But he often just turns the volume to whatever is needed for a particular project, and at the larger scales the designs can be simultaneously trite and overbearing. It’s quite possible that’s what would happen at O’Hare. He also seductively proposes an outsize garden in front of the new terminal and its flanking buildings, an add-on that would certainly cause the overall costs to soar far beyond the $8.5 billion that’s contemplated.
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