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An architecture critic takes stock of SOM in its 85th year.

Burj Khalifa set the tone for SOM through the 2010s. The dozens of projects that followed are seamless, elegant buildings whose forms, programs, and functions seem simple, even inevitable, although they are anything but. Photo © Nick Merrick | Hedrich Blessing

Our sixth monograph, SOM: Works by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, 2009–2019, is now available online and in bookstores. To mark the occasion, we’re sharing this excerpt of architecture journalist Sam Lubell’s essay from the book—an examination of SOM’s depth and agility in the face of existential changes occurring all over the world today.

How much have things changed since SOM’s last monograph was published, back in 2008?

The past decade has almost certainly brought us a higher level of complexity than any in history. Innovations and challenges alike have bombarded our world, like unprecedented peaks in digitization and globalization, the…

As travelers fill the new skylit concourse, we trace the history of the station that’s become an emblem of New York’s recovery.

Photo: Dave Burk © SOM | Empire State Development

With the heat and humidity rising, many New Yorkers are continuing a time-honored summer ritual: getting out of town. At the same time, while tourism is still far its pre-pandemic levels, a trickle of vacationing visitors has begun to reanimate the city. As a result, the scene at Penn Station has lately begun to resemble the eclectic mix of people that once thronged the city’s busiest transit hub: local commuters, urbanites making a weekend escape, and tourists from near and far.

Now instead of the old, dingy underground waiting areas at Penn Station, these travelers gather beneath a soaring skylight…

Completed decades after her first collaboration with SOM, a Florida tower offer clues to a more experimental side of the famed designer.

For Southeast Financial Center, the interiors team worked so closely with Florence Knoll Bassett that the team referred to her as “The Design Committee.” Photo © Peter Aaron | ESTO

When thinking of Florence Knoll Bassett and SOM, it’s only natural to visualize 1950s Bloomfield, Connecticut, and the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company headquarters. There, the glass and steel architecture of Gordon Bunshaft and SOM hosted the impossibly stylish office interiors done by Knoll Associates. It’s where “Shu,” as the pioneering designer and entrepreneur was known, showcased the abilities of her company’s interior planning arm known as the Planning Unit.

Her team, in collaboration with Bunshaft’s, tested out cubicle dimensions, lighting schemes, and materials on a full-scale mockup in order to accurately simulate the office environment. The total design experience…

A champion for equity and inclusion is making a difference in the design industry.

Ammee on a backpacking trip to the Cirque of the Towers in Wyoming. All photos © Ammee Snyder unless otherwise cited.

San Francisco-based architect Ammee Snyder doesn’t hesitate to tackle complex challenges, whether in her design work at SOM or in advocating for greater equity and representation throughout the industry. For this edition of “Spotlight,” a series on personal and professional journeys, Ammee shares what motivates and inspires her.

In the simplest terms, I enjoy solving problems through design. I like digging deep into new ways of thinking and I feel proud when I find a solution to a complex design problem. My work as an architect challenges me to do this every day.

An architect reflects on connection, identity, and community.

Andy in the Catskill Mountains. All images © Andy Rah unless otherwise cited.

For New York-based architect Andy Rah, the pandemic has been a time to refocus. Taking the chance to get long-held ideas off the ground, he worked with his colleagues to launch the Asian Alliance, a group dedicated to uplifting and advocating for Asian communities at SOM worldwide. For this edition of our Spotlight series, Andy tells us about what he has rediscovered over the past year.

I am what’s called a “third culture kid.” It’s someone who grew up in an environment different from their country of origin or residence and was exposed to a wide variety of cultural influences…

In four years, UC Merced doubled in size and met its net-zero carbon goal ahead of schedule. That’s just the beginning.

Photo: Dave Burk © SOM

If you’ve driven from Los Angeles to San Francisco along Interstate 5 — that perfectly straight highway surrounded by open fields and farmland — then you have a sense for the vast horizons of California’s agrarian heartland, the San Joaquin Valley.

As part of the expansive Central Valley, which stretches some 450 miles through the interior of the state, it’s one the most productive growing regions in the world. …

What if architecture and urban design could function as an “immune system” for where we congregate?

It’s been a full year since the W.H.O. declared COVID-19 a pandemic, upending just about every facet of life around the world since. Thankfully, millions of people every day are now receiving their vaccines, bringing us closer to some semblance of “normal” again. But looking towards the future, we know that we may eventually face yet another pandemic. Medical researchers are testing treatments for a wide range of viral threats, aiming to mitigate the next outbreak before it starts. As designers of buildings and cities, can we be just as proactive? …

An architect‘s journey, from dance to design.

Hayley with her daughter at the Nishi Hongwanji Obon Festival in Los Angeles, 2019.

She spends her days designing buildings, but Hayley Saita hasn’t hung up her ballet shoes. In this edition of “Spotlight,” a series on personal and professional journeys, Hayley tells us what architecture and choreography have in common.

I never thought about becoming an architect as a kid. I started studying ballet when I was eight years old; it was all that I did outside of school. Most of all, I loved choreography. I would listen to music and draw little Xs on paper to show where the dancers would go. There are a lot of different ways to choreograph, but…

Photographer Wayne Thom and author Emily Bills discuss an under-appreciated era in architecture.

Inside the Bank of America data center in San Francisco, featuring a wall sculpture by Claire Kahn. (© Wayne Thom | The Monacelli Press)

When a renewed interest in Late Modernism arrives, there’s a good chance Wayne Thom’s photography will play a role in understanding the buildings that best represent the period.

Thom, now 87, began his prolific career in 1968. His work took him around the world but was mostly rooted in the U.S. West Coast; he was busiest through the 1970s and 80s. …

From an exhibition to an entire museum, a Los Angeles-based designer finds the opportunity to learn at every scale.

All images courtesy Jad Ismail, unless otherwise cited.

Having joined our L.A. office first as a summer intern and then as a full-time designer, Jad Ismail is now part of the team working on LACMA, the largest museum in the city he now calls home. For this edition of “Spotlight,” a series on personal and professional journeys at SOM, Jad shares his thoughts on how architecture shapes our lives every day.

I’m the youngest of five children. The second oldest, my sister, is an architect as well. I saw her going through architecture school and I remember being so amazed by what she did. …


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