Introduced earlier this year, the United Airlines Polaris seats improved upon the airline’s business class seats on international routes. To be able to give passengers a full experience, United Airlines also created a new luxury passenger lounge, United Polaris. The first opened in December at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, IL.

Solomon Cordwell Buenz (SCB), a Chicago-based architecture, interior design and planning firm was contacted to renovate the old United Lounge. “The primary design objective was to generate a sense of continuity between the on-board cabin environment and the lounge experience,” said Sheyla Conforte, principal of SCB. “SCB achieved this through thoughtful spatial planning, creating different zones within the 12,000-square-foot lounge that celebrate the excitement of travel. SCB’s studied choice of materials, distinctive lighting and impactful art creates a truly unique airport experience for travelers.”

The lounge features elevated dining options, spa-quality showers, private sleeping pods and laundry service. Luxurious finishes of warm metals, rich stones and nuanced lighting elicit a sense of relaxation and respite. Some of the biggest design challenges SCB had to face was to create an oasis of exclusivity, luxury and tranquility in a very public, noisy terminal space. The area needed to be identified from the public terminal as a special place without fighting the distinctive O’Hare airport architecture. The other major challenge was to maintain a balance between gracious space and the need for a specific seat count, all within a 12,700-square-foot space.

The project used Calacatta marble, Turkish limestone and quartzite throughout the space, utilizing it for floors, walls, table tops, back-lit desks and bar counters, and restroom vanities. “We chose these stones because of their high-quality and because they beautifully conveyed the aesthetic we were seeking,” said Conforte. “The availability of the selected stone was a challenge since the quantity was large and the herringbone layout made for a labor-intensive application. The other concerns had to do with the stones’ appearance and ensuring they aligned with the design’s overall aesthetic.”

The lounge used pieces from 39 linear feet to 4- x 24-inch sizes. The stones were sourced through SIMI and supplied by ABC Worldwide Stone, Stone Source, Terrazzo and Marble Supply Company.

SCB was on-site regularly for site observation visits and relied on the expertise of their general contractor and sub-contractors for installation excellence. The items that SCB would review had to do with the treatments of reveals, edge conditions, where a slab turned the corner and pattern matching. “Airport access is always a consideration for lounge projects,” said Conforte. “Unlike a conventional commercial project, there are layers of security that sometimes slow down the delivery of product, not only for stone, but for all construction materials. The design and construction team met this challenge head-on by being proactive about the ordering of long lead-time items and creatively implementing an off-hours delivery schedule. This assured that product was always in place when the construction schedule dictated installation. Additionally, a fair amount of stone cutting was actually done off-site to expedite the process as much as possible.” The entire project took 16 weeks, from August 2016 to December 2016.

“The reaction has been absolutely amazing,” said Conforte. “Many customers have commented on the beautiful use of stone throughout the space and how it elevates the space to a new level of luxury.”

United Airlines luxury passenger lounge- United Polaris

O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, IL

Architect: Solomon Cordwell Buenz (SCB), Chicago, IL
Stone suppliers: Worldwide Stone, Stone Source, Terrazzo and Marble Supply Company