ORD Documenting the Definitive Modern Airport
“O’Hare International Airport is Chicago’s Versailles. An inspiring diagram, speaking the poetry of flow, an unheralded masterpiece descended from such giant prototypical installations as the stockyards, the pier, the service tunnels, Soldiers Field, and so on, it recalls the generic style of the city itself.” Alvin Boyarsky, 1970
HARVARD GRADUATE SCHOOL OF DESIGN CURATED BY CHARLES WALDHEIM/URBAN AGENCY
Documenting the Definitive Modern Airport
ORD juxtaposes animation of O’Hare’s airspace on the busiest travel day of the year with diverse documentary evidence from the airport’s history. Hedrich Blessing’s iconic images from the early 1960s describe the second Chicago school modernism of the city’s largest public works project. Robert Burley’s photographs of the mid-1980s describe O’Hare’s operational airfield as a complex managed landscape. The exhibition includes Tandem Sling Seating as an example of design produced originally for O’Hare. Designed by Charles and Ray Eames with Herman Miller, Tandem Sling Seating has been adopted widely by other airports, becoming an international icon of air travel. ORD describes O’Hare in multiple contexts beginning with the history of Orchard Place, the farming village that would lend its name to O’Hare’s three-letter location-identifier code. Equally evident are the airfield’s origins in civic boosterism and military expediency; politics and patronage in Chicago’s largest architectural commission; the spatial and organizational innovations in O’Hare’s design; and the airport’s role in the decentralization of the city.
In the second half of the twentieth century, Chicago’s O’Hare Airport was the biggest and busiest facility of its kind in the world. Characterized by a seamless integration of transportation infrastructure and architectural expression, O’Hare quickly emerged as an international model for the jet-age airport. The design team, led by C. F. Murphy Associates, integrated innovative design strategies such as the movable jetway bridge, two-tiered entryway drive, linear unit terminal building, and central parking garage. Each of these strategies differed markedly from contemporaneous solutions developed for comparable jet-age airports. These design decisions shaped the definitive typology of the modern airport.
DOCUMENTING THE DEFINITIVE MODERN AIRPORT
FEATURING ORD AIRSPACE ANIMATIONS BY ROBERT GERARD PIETRUSKO IN COLLABORATION WITH URBAN AGENCY SPECIAL THANKS TO THE GRAHAM FOUNDATION FOR ADVANCED STUDIES IN THE FINE ARTS/CHICAGO HISTORY MUSEUM/HERMAN MILLER/ SONJA DÜMPELMANN/DAN BORELLI/DAVID ZIMMERMAN-STUART/ FADI MASOUD/NASHID NABIAN/ALLEN SAYEGH/ SIENA SCARFF DESIGN
Hedrich Blessing Hedrich Blessing is one the world’s most recognized architectural photography firms. Ken Hedrich and Henry Blessing founded the Chicago-based studio in 1929. The firm has produced countless canonical images of modern architecture and has been responsible for innovations including the use of dramatic perspective and high-contrast lighting found in modernist graphic design. Hedrich Blessing’s photographs came to stand for modernism itself. Their images helped popularize myths of Chicago’s role in the origins of modern architecture. Hedrich Blessing’s photographs of O’Hare were published internationally in 1963, the year of the airport’s dedication. They illustrate the difficulties of isolating an architectural object from the infrastructural ensemble that is a jet-age airport. The dissemination of Hedrich Blessing’s images bolstered O’Hare’s modernist legitimacy and introduced the airport as a public amenity.
Robert Burley In 1984, as a graduate student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Robert Burley began a photographic survey of O’Hare International Airport. After obtaining permission to access secure areas of the airfield, Burley explored the site as a Midwestern prairie adapted for jet-age air travel. His photographs examine the relationships between land and sky, man-made and natural elements, and airfield edges and crowded terminals. While a student in Chicago, Burley worked for two years at Hedrich Blessing as a photographic assistant. In 1988, he established a practice in Toronto as an architectural photographer. Burley currently teaches at Ryerson University’s School of Image Arts in Toronto and is represented by the Stephen Bulger Gallery. Burley’s work has received support from the Canada Council, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Faculty of Communication & Design, Ryerson University.
 ORD. This three letter designation of O’Hare; its “location identifier” in the terms of international aviation, distinguishes it from every other airport internationally. These three letters derive from the placename Orchard Place, the small farming village that lent its name to the airfield of the Douglas Aircraft assembly plant built on the site in 1942-43. This hamlet on the banks of the Des Plaines River northwest of the city happened to occupy an important intersection of the regional waterborne transportation routes with the Native American portage paths and trails of the region. The definitive jet age airport was built over a complex network of low-lying prairie wetlands on the banks of a major regional watercourse, the Des Plaines River, itself a tributary of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. The construction of O’Hare fundamentally altered the course and content of the hydrologic network it spans and absorbed the low-lying wetlands that preceded it.
ORD. These three letters derive from the place name Orchard Place the small farming village that lent its name to the airfield of the Douglas Aircraft assembly plant built on the site in 1942-43.
 A 1949 editorial in the Chicago Tribune first proposed the idea of naming the new post-war airport at Orchard Place for Edward “Butch” O’Hare, a war hero who died in action over the Pacific after having already being awarded the Congressional medal of honor for heroism in the face of overwhelming enemy forces. While public opinion cohered quickly and conclusively around the naming of the airfield for naval aviator and war hero Edward “Butch” O’Hare, the development of the airport itself was slow in coming. This would change with the election of Richard J. Daley as mayor in 1955. Originally conceived and planned by city planning engineer Ralph Burke, O’Hare’s development had languished under the previous administration of Mayor Kennelly. Upon taking office Daley made the development of O’Hare a priority of his new administration and he initiated a regular series of meetings with the so-called “Top” committee of airline leadership. Daley successfully negotiated an unprecedented agreement, with the airlines agreeing to pay for O’Hare’s construction out of future revenues. With this agreement in hand, Daley replaced Burke with Chicago architect C.F. Murphy, a product of the same Bridgeport neighborhood and De La Salle High School that produced Daley.
While public opinion cohered quickly and conclusively around the naming of the airfield for naval aviator and war hero Edward “Butch” O’Hare, the development of the airport itself was slow in coming. This would change with the election of Richard J. Daley as mayor in 1955. 9
 The team of architects and engineers assembled by Murphy for the design of O’Hare had virtually no experience with airport planning or design. In spite of this, they came to produce what can now be described as the definitive modern airport. The team was led by project architect Carter Manny, and included the best available architects, engineers, and planners from the talent that had been employed on many large complex projects at Murphy’s office, including the recently completed Central District Water Filtration Plant on Chicago’s lakefront. As one of the more compelling design commissions in the city of Chicago, the O’Hare job commanded a large multidisciplinary team and recruited heavily from the available talent in Chicago, drawing design professionals to join Murphy’s office from recently completed projects in the offices of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill and the office of Mies van der Rohe. The O’Hare team employed a number of key architects and engineers recently responsible for the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs by Walter Netsch of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill; as well as the recently designed Lafayette Park housing project in Detroit by the office of Mies van der Rohe.
In 1963, the year of O’Hare’s official dedication, the airport was already the busiest in the world.
The team of architects and engineers assembled by Murphy for the design of Oâ€™Hare had virtually no experience with airport planning or design. In spite of this, they came to produce what can now be described as the definitive modern airport.
 O’Hare offered visitors and tourists an image of Chicago as a modern, efficient, safe, and smoothly operating machine. In this respect the shared goals of Daley and Murphy were matched by the aspirations of modern architecture as interpreted for the cultural and material conditions of midcentury Chicago. As an early example of public architecture identified with the second Chicago school, early audiences associated O’Hare’s stylistic aspirations to high modernism as a kind of luxury, one attendant to the elite status of the flying classes. The standardization and serial repetition produced at O’Hare reiterated and advanced Chicago school interests in the articulation of production. The aluminum and glass enclosed terminal buildings reiterate a range of themes that Mies himself had advanced with his buildings at the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology beginning in the late 30s and early 40s. While the technology of glass curtain walls was rapidly evolving, O’Hare represented a milestone along a line of thought that was specific to Chicago cultural and material conditions. Among the design achievements realized through standardization at O’Hare were the custom O’Hare tandem sling chairs designed by Charles and Ray Eames, which quickly became standards nationally, replicated in numerous contemporary jet-age airports.
Oâ€™Hare offered visitors and tourists an image of Chicago as a modern, efficient, safe, and smoothly operating machine.
In 1963, the year of O’Hare’s official dedication, the airport was already the busiest in the world. In that same year O’Hare’s designers were awarded an American Institute of Architects award for the quality of the airport’s design. The facility quickly garnered national and international attention with both popular and professional press citing its accomplishments. Mass audiences of air travelers, tourists, and curious Chicagoans visited the facility, giving O’Hare a unique combination of popular and critical acclaim. For Daley, O’Hare and the highways that connected it to his city were a continuation of the smoothly paved public realm organized around the automobile that he and his designers envisioned for the city of Chicago. Daley’s O’Hare promised a prosperous middle class future for Chicago predicated on mass automobility. O’Hare’s accommodation of the automobile was simply a continuation by other means of Daley’s infamous attention to street lights and paving, an extrapolation of Chicago democratic machine politics through public works, writ large and in high style for a broad middle class audience.
For Daley, Oâ€™Hare and the highways that connected it to his city were a continuation of the smoothly paved public realm organized around the automobile that he and his designers envisioned for the City of Chicago.
Among the design achievements realized through standardization at Oâ€™Hare was the the custom tandem sling seating designed by Charles and Ray Eames, which quickly became standards nationally, replicated in numerous contemporary jet-age airports.
By the late 1960s, passenger volumes flowing through O’Hare exceeded even the most optimistic growth projections. By the early 1970s, that traffic threatened to overwhelm the facility in spite of a preceding decade of ongoing expansions, additions, and renovations to the airport. By the late 1970s, O’Hare developed the curious dual status that it enjoys today. For residents of Chicago and the region who perceived O’Hare as among the most tangible of the Daley administration’s public works improvements, O’Hare was seen as a treasured economic asset, one capable of positioning Chicago in increasingly competitive markets nationally and internationally. By the late 1970s, O’Hare began to be perceived as a dreaded hub for remote connections experienced by enormous numbers of the flying public wanting to go from one city to another but obliged to change planes at O’Hare. For this national audience who simply passed through O’Hare, the airport was increasingly identified as the site of delays, inconvenience, long walking distances, short connection times, and all manner of indignity associated with the worst aspects of air travel.
 O’Hare is arguably among the most environmentally compromised sites in the region. In a single month in 1998, for example, two of the year’s ten worst environmental incidents occurred at O’Hare airport. Both of these were the result of deicing fluid spills that mixed dense concentrations of toxic fluid with groundwater. Annual evaluations of the quality of groundwater surrounding O’Hare reveal the enormous negative impact of airfield operations on the surrounding watershed and residential neighborhoods. While the operational airfield at O’Hare contains acres of runways, taxiways, terminal buildings, roadways, parking lots and other impervious surfaces, the vast majority of the site is comprised of large tracts of landscape including grasslands, woodlots, and the occasional vestige of wetlands and streambeds. This oddly de-natured landscape is strictly monitored, closely shaved, and devoid of much life. It is a kind of antilandscape, one that is observed by full time wildlife biologists, one that has constructed enormous hydrological engineering systems to remove any standing water on site, and one that is purposely maintained to strictly delimit natural life. Today O’Hare is paradoxically both the City of Chicago’s single largest economic engine as well as its single largest publicly owned landscape.
By the late 1970s, Oâ€™Hare began to be perceived as a dreaded hub for remote connections experienced by enormous numbers of the flying public wanting to go from one city to another but obliged to change planes at Oâ€™Hare. 19
CREDITS [Pages 2-3] Aaron Koblin, Flight Patterns, 2005-2009. [Pages 4-5] Hedrich Blessing Entryway drive, upper level and terminal buildings, 1963. Courtesy Chicago History Museum, HB-25500-B2. Entryway drive, lower level, 1963. Courtesy Chicago History Museum, HB-25500-B. View from upper-level entry into interior, 1963. Courtesy Chicago History Museum, HB-25500-I. View from upper-level entry into interior, 1963. Courtesy Chicago History Museum, HB-25500-N. View of waiting room with barbershop sign, 1963. Courtesy Chicago History Museum, HB-25500-K4. View of upper-level ticketing lobby, 1963. Courtesy Chicago History Museum, HB-25500-D. Daytime view of heating and refrigeration plant, 1963. Courtesy Chicago History Museum, HB-25500-H. Exterior view of telephone-switching building, 1963. Courtesy Chicago History Museum, HB-24822-A. Facade of telephone-switching building, 1963. Courtesy Chicago History Museum, HB-24822-B. Robert Burley
Tarmac, Terminal 3, O’Hare Airfield, 1988. Courtesy Robert Burley. Cattails near terminal area, O’Hare Airfield, 1985. Courtesy Robert Burley. Light ladders next to fuel farm, O’Hare Airfield, 1985. Courtesy Robert Burley. Animal tracks on airfield, O’Hare Airfield, 1986. Courtesy Robert Burley. Runway 14-R, O’Hare Airfield, 1986. Courtesy Robert Burley. Parking lot, O’Hare Airfield, 1986. Courtesy Robert Burley. Radio towers, O’Hare Airfield, 1985. Courtesy Robert Burley. Light ladders, Runway 14-R, O’Hare Airfield, 1985. Courtesy Robert Burley. Airport radio beacon, O’Hare Airfield, 1985. Courtesy Robert Burley. [Pages 6-7] Orchard Place, Illinois, train station, c. 1915. Courtesy Des Plaines Historical Society. Orchard Place, Illinois, train station, 1912. Courtesy Des Plaines Historical Society. Des Plaines River, Des Plaines, Illinois, 1923. Courtesy Des Plaines Historical Society. [Pages 8-9] Douglas Plant at Orchard Place, exterior view of assembly building with C-54 Skymasters in foreground, 1944. U.S. Air Force photo, courtesy Chicago History Museum, ICHi-39885. Lieutenant Commander Edward “Butch” O’Hare, 1943, courtesy Chicago History Museum, ICHi-26489. Douglas Plant at Orchard Place, interior view of assembly building with two rows of C-54 Skymasters under construction, 1942. Courtesy Douglas Aircraft. Douglas C-54 Skymaster, cutaway drawing from Flying magazine, 1942. Courtesy Des Plaines Historical Society. [Pages 10-11] Orchard Place Douglas Airport, aerial view, 1948. Courtesy Chicago History Museum. Members of the air-traffic study committee standing on a huge map at O’Hare, Chicago Tribune, July 26, 1949, p. 1. [Pages 12-13] C.F. Murphy Associates, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, entryway drive upper level, 1963. Glenn E. Dahlby photo, courtesy Chicago History Museum, ICHi-26515aa.
Pavement / Buildings = 4,114 ac Forested = 11 ac = 0.3% Scrub-Shrub = 80 ac = 3.7% Unmowed Grass + Wetland = 240 ac = 7% Mowed Grass = 2,831 ac = 85%
Construction at O’Hare, view of new terminal building through new entryway drive, c. 1961. Hedrich Blessing photo, courtesy Chicago History Museum, HB-26093. Ralph Burke Associates with William K. Kaiser, O’Hare Field Master Plan, aerial view, 1952. Courtesy Ralph Burke Associates and The Art Institute of Chicago, AIC-1993.506. [Pages 14-15] Construction at O’Hare, view of new airside ramps and apron, c. 1961. Hedrich Blessing photo, courtesy Chicago History Museum, HB-32803-B. Construction at O’Hare, view of new airside ramps and apron, c. 1961. Hedrich Blessing photo, courtesy Chicago History Museum, HB-32803-C. [Pages 16-17] Charles and Ray Eames with Herman Miller Co., Tandem Sling Seating at O’Hare International Airport, Chicago, 1962. [Pages 18-19] Harvey Pekar, “The Hell of Airports,” The Best of American Splendor, 2005, p. 206. Courtesy Harvey Pekar. Traffic outside Terminal 1, 1986. Courtesy Robert Burley. O’Hare terminal filled with baggage following deregulation, 1978. Neal Callahan photo, courtesy Chicago History Museum, ICHi-21676. O’Hare terminal overwhelmed with passengers following deregulation, 1978. Neal Callahan photo, courtesy Chicago History Museum, ICHi-26528. Arthur Hailey, Airport, 1968. Murphy/Jahn Architects, United Airlines Terminal 1, O’Hare International Airport, 1982. Courtesy Murphy/Jahn. “Superiority Complex,” United Airlines advertisement featuring Terminal 1, 1987. Courtesy Murphy/Jahn. [Pages 20-22] O’Hare Airport landscape, 2013. Courtesy Charles Waldheim/Urban Agency.
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Permeable Surface Total = 3,366 - 3,350 ac =
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