Skidmore, Owings and Merrill LLP (SOM) is an architectural and engineering firm that was formed in Chicago in 1936 by Louis Skidmore and Nathaniel Owings; in 1939 they were joined by John O. Merrill. They opened their first branch in New York City, New York in 1937. SOM is one of the largest architectural firms in the world. Their primary expertise is in high-end commercial buildings, as it was SOM that led the way to the widespread use of the modern international-style or “glass box” skyscraper. They have been built several of the tallest buildings in the world, including: John Hancock Center (1969, second tallest in the world when built), Sears Tower (1973, tallest in the world for over twenty years), and Burj Khalifa (2010, current world’s tallest building). SOM provides services in Architecture, Building Services/MEP Engineering, Digital Design, Graphics, Interior Design, Structural Engineering, Civil Engineering, Sustainable Design and Urban Design & Planning.
Many of SOM’s post-war designs have become icons of American modern architecture, including the Manhattan House (1950), designated as a New York City landmark in 2007 by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, and the Lever House (1952), also in New York City; as well as the Air Force Academy Chapel (1958) in Colorado Springs, Colorado; and the John Hancock Center (1969) and Willis Tower (1973), both in Chicago.
Although SOM was one of the first major modern American architectural firms to promote a corporate face, i.e. not specifically crediting individual architects for their buildings, many famous architects, engineers and interior designers have been associated with the various national offices.
Due to their faithful following of Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe’s ideas, Frank Lloyd Wright nicknamed them “The Three Blind Mies”.
Well-known SOM architects include: Gordon Bunshaft, Natalie de Blois, Myron Goldsmith, Bruce Graham, Gertrude Kerbis, Walter Netsch, Pietro Belluschi, Adrian Smith, Ferdinand Gottlieb, Larry Oltmanns, Fazlur Rahman Khan and David Childs.
The earliest amongst the many SOM engineers was John O. Merrill. Fazlur Khan, another engineer at SOM, is considered “the greatest structural engineer of the second half of the 20th century;” he is best known for his constructions of the Willis Tower and John Hancock Center and for his designs of structural systems that remain fundamental to all high-rise skyscrapers. Indeed, Khan is responsible for developing the algorithms that made the Hancock building and many subsequent skyscrapers possible.
Davis Allen, a pioneer in corporate interior design, had a forty-year tenure at SOM.
Throughout its history, SOM has been recognized with more than 800 awards for quality and innovation. More than 125 of these awards have been received since 1998. In 1996 and 1962, SOM received the American Institute of Architects Firm Award, which recognizes the design work of an entire firm. SOM is the only firm to have received this honor twice.
In 2009, SOM received four of 13 R+D Awards from Architect Magazine. In addition, a collaboration between SOM and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, The Center for Architecture, Science & Ecology, was honored with a fifth award.
The firm’s website: http://www.som.com/