O'Hare International Airport, Multi Modal Terminal - CODAworx

O’Hare International Airport, Multi Modal Terminal

Submitted by Ross Barney Architects

Client: City of Chicago, Department of Aviation

Location: Chicago, IL, United States

Completion date: 2019

Artwork budget: $2,600,000

Project Team

Design Architect

Carol Ross Barney

Ross Barney Architects

Owner; Commissioner

Jamie Rhee

City of Chicago, Department of Aviation


Rob Ley

"Field Lines"


James Carpenter

"Horizon Light"


Nick Cave



Theaster Gates

CEO; TranSystems

Rick Morsches

Engineer and Architect of Record


The soaring, sun filled O’Hare International Airport, Multi-Modal Terminal is a welcoming and convenient gateway to Chicago for millions of arriving visitors, many of whom experience jet-lag. The Terminal is generously glazed to let in the recalibrating effects of the sun. This continues in the five-level, precast concrete parking structure featuring two courtyards planted with evergreen and deciduous trees acting as visual landmarks, providing natural light, ventilation, and way finding.
The City of Chicago commissioned original art for the project, curated by Theaster Gates and includes “Horizon Light” by James Carpenter, that evokes flight, travel and time with an array of color-anodized ellipses with programmed lighting that recalls the experience of arrival and departure, and the cycles of light from dawn to dusk. “Field Lines” by Rob Ley, is a Painted Aluminum, 294’ W x 25’ H x 2.5’ D, work that greets visitors inside the terminal, and represents dynamic air currents that oscillate between stable and turbulent wind conditions that have an impact on air travel. “Palimpsest” by Nick Cave, is a vast, multistory tapestry, beaded and bustled, that reveals layers of color, like an old billboard that over time, weathers, and reveals the history beneath.


Given the civic nature of the new Multi-Modal Terminal and it’s soaring spaces, art installations had to be well integrated. Five sites were selected throughout the new Terminal building to provide a high-caliber art collection that celebrates the Architecture of the new Terminal building and the history of O’Hare International Airport.
Goals included;
• Imaginative and aesthetically pleasing, creatively utilizing the spaces dedicated for inclusion/integration of public art
• The artwork should be of high artistic quality and be well-integrated into the MultiModal Terminal
• Imaginative, reflecting the innovative energies of O’Hare International Airport
• The artwork is on permanent display and must meet high standards of durability, structural performance and made of long-wearing, NO-maintenance materials.
• The artwork must not interfere or compete with the function of users, pedestrians or vehicular activity, but should be a force to draw users into the piece(s) and the surrounding area(s).


Artists were selected by following a selection process modeled by the City of Chicago Percent-for-Art Ordinance. This process included a thorough evaluation on the following criteria:
• Artistic merit
• Professional recognition as evidenced by awards, honors, exhibitions records
• Written statement of interest
• Qualifications as evidenced by resume
A Project Art Committee, made up of Chicago Department of Aviation, design team members, gallery curators and convened by Theaster Gates as the lead curator, reviewed 350 artist portfolios and selected a short list for interviews.
Five sites were selected throughout the new Terminal building to provide a high-caliber art collection that celebrates the Architecture of the new Terminal building and the history of O’Hare International Airport.

Additional Information

In 1978, the Chicago City Council unanimously approved the Percent for Art Ordinance, which stipulates that a 1.33% of the cost of constructing or renovating municipal buildings and public spaces be devoted to original artwork on the premises; it also stipulates that at least half of the commissions be awarded to Chicago area artists to provide opportunities to the local arts community. At that time, Chicago was one of the first municipalities, and the largest, to legislate the incorporation of public art into its official building program. Today, there are more than 200 similar programs throughout the United States, due in large part to the success of the Chicago ordinance. The Per Cent for Art Program for the new MultiModal Terminal at O’Hare International Airport has the potential to surprise, inspire, challenge and bring people together through the shared experiences.