Architecture of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, 1973-1983

By Albert Bush-Brown (Introduction by)
Monacelli Press, Hardcover, 9781580932226, 288pp.

Publication Date: November 17, 2009

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Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, founded in 1936, is one of the largest and most influential architecture firms in the world. SOM has long been known for innovation, experimentation, design excellence, and technical mastery, for an abiding interest in the contributions that buildings can make to the life of cities, and for a collaborative approach that extends to all aspects of the design and construction processes. This volume, which presents work from the 1970s and early 1980s, reproduces a monograph first published in 1983.
SOM's growth as a large architectural firm began almost fifty years ago. By 1981 there were nine offices in the United States with a total of more than 2,100 members. The decade 1973 1983 brought retirement to a number of well-known founding partners. Nevertheless, SOM's reputation for design leadership has been maintained through creative dissidence, as one of the younger partners describes it. The firm moves with distinction into a third and fourth generation. This book, organized by region, reveals the firm's architectural response to a decade that greatly changed American society.
The firm's work of the past decade belonged to the city, and especially the urban office tower. Architectural restraints, new technology and programs created opportunity for a new generation of distinctive towers that have become important additions to the skylines of major American cities. The tall building has evolved to new purposes, and the result has been expanding variations on tower architecture. The late Chicago partner Fazlur Khan, who led the way by creating the flexible, economical tube structure, was enthusiastic about the tall building, claiming it permits work and residential space to locate where and when most needed. The tall building, for him, was a remarkable economical and symbolic success which also performed an admirable social service.
The decade was also defined by wide public interest in preservation of historic buildings and contexts. To this movement, SOM's designers did not react with historical quotation or eclectic reference, but rather by accepting the contextual obligation as part of their more urgent quest for a strong architecture that is both modern and compatible with its setting. SOM addressed important urban problems with seminal studies for San Antonio, Chicago, and Washington, as well as with designs for large urban transportation facilities on the East Coast.
At the same time, the firm sought work abroad in the face of a barren domestic economy, designing universities, new towns, airport terminals, and commercial buildings on several continents. Whereas regret surrounds plans for Iranian cities halted by political revolt, planning projects of this kind introduced the firm's teams to social urgency and primary research into indigenous form.
The energy crisis brought still other challenges. Its special requirements created new architectural opportunities that have been demonstrated by buildings in a variety of locations. SOM early recognized the potential of computer analysis and pioneered its adoption in dealing with structural and architectural problems. This capability dramatically extended SOM's capacity for the creative study of energy efficiency and performance calculations.

About the Author
About the Authors Albert Bush-Brown is President of AB-BA consultants in organizing, designing and financing residential healthcare and cultural communities. A former director and chairman of Barclay s Bank of New York, he currently chairs the Bank s Regional Advisory Boards. Dr. Bush-Brown was formerly Chancellor of Long Island University, President of Rhode Island School of Design, and professor at Harvard and MIT. He was Presidential inaugural appointee to the National Council on the Arts, and has been Special Advisor to the Secretary, HUD (Washington); and Managing Director of the Metropolitan Opera (New York). He is the author of numerous essays and books advocating the social and cultural benefits of good design. Dianne Davis founded Hospitality Healthcare Designs a marketing and environmental consulting firm. Known as an industry catalyst, change agent and futurist, Professor Davis has been a leader in creating products and services for hospitality, healthcare and education. Some of her more innovative healthcare projects include designing the first medical professional center in St. Croix and mid-wifery center in Trinidad; and developing New York University s Center for the Study of Foodservice Management. Professor Davis has conducted numerous seminars for national and international organizations, including the American College of Healthcare Administrators, The First Annual National Symposium for Healthcare Interior Design, MUFSO, the American Hotel & Motel Educational Institute, and President Reagan s Initiative National Conferences for Women s Business Ownership.
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