What’s New: 9 Places to Watch in 2021

Our annual architecture preview.

9 min readDec 18, 2020


The roof terrace at 800 Fulton will offer new views above Chicago. Image © SOM

The year 2020 has defied every expectation — and yet, thankfully, our work continues. As our design teams have adapted (fashioning workspaces out of bedrooms, screen shares replacing pin-up boards, etc.) the distances between Los Angeles, Chicago, and London have never seemed shorter. Even while being physically apart from our colleagues and clients, we’ve invented new, meaningful ways to collaborate. Our work has kept us inspired and focused on the future.

With construction advancing on airport terminals, creative offices, and arts venues, we eagerly await a return to routines once taken for granted. Meanwhile, we’re grateful to contribute to projects that will be transformative for cities and communities around the world. Here’s to 2021 — and a look ahead at a few of the new buildings we’re excited to celebrate.

1245 Broadway

New York City

1245 Broadway under construction. Photo © Timothy Schenck (left). Rendering © SOM (right).

Commercial real estate in New York City has recently been dominated by mega-developments. But an exquisitely crafted new building at the corner of Broadway and 31st Street represents an altogether different type that’s increasingly in demand — the boutique office building.

In every detail, 1245 Broadway is anything but standard issue. The design of the 22-story tower makes a contemporary impression while evoking its historic surroundings. It riffs on the form of classic Manhattan high-rises, with setbacks that create a series of outdoor terraces, each tailored to take advantage of specific views. The same purposeful balance comes through in its materials. Bold lines of textured concrete echo the surrounding masonry buildings, while floor-to-ceiling, triple-glazed windows provide dramatic views and light-filled interiors.

These design choices contribute to making 1245 Broadway a sought-after place to work, of course, but they also earn the building high marks for sustainability. And many features which are not commonly found in typical office buildings, such as outdoor spaces and touchless technology throughout, gain a new relevance for the workplace in our post-pandemic reality. It’s not hard to imagine that 1245 Broadway offers a glimpse of where commercial office design is headed next.

Sea-Tac Airport, International Arrivals Facility


The new aerial bridge at Sea-Tac. Photo © SOM

While many of us put travel plans on hold this year, we’ve been dreaming about destinations far and wide. If predictions for an eventual post-pandemic travel boom play out, Seattle, for one, will be ready. Work is scheduled to wrap up in April of next year on a reimagined and greatly expanded International Arrivals Facility (IAF) at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) — a project that further positions the growing Puget Sound region as a destination for business and tourism.

As part of the most significant capital development program in Sea-Tac’s 70-plus-year history, the new IAF will double the airport’s capacity and handle increased demand for international flights. The new multilevel, 450,000-square-foot facility is located east of Sea-Tac’s current Concourse A. It’s designed to comfortably accommodate an additional 2,600 passengers per hour. The signature feature is an aerial bridge which spans 700 feet, providing a walkway from the south satellite terminal, and across the top of Concourse A, to the new space.

Baggage area at Sea-Tac’s new International Arrivals Facility. Photo © SOM

The overall expansion increases Sea-Tac’s capacity for wide-body aircraft, while speeding up passport checks and luggage processing. It also provides direct access to ground transportation, reducing connection times from 90 to 57 minutes. Travelers, take note: 2021 might turn out to be a good year to renew your passport.

United Nations Office at Geneva, Strategic Heritage Plan


Image © SOM | Burckhardt+Partner

For years, the United Nations has taken the lead in coordinating a global response to climate change. With the UN’s own European headquarters in Geneva due for a major renovation, it was clear that the project should set an example for the 21st-century sustainable workplace. The challenges were also evident: How do you incorporate cutting-edge architecture into the context of an important heritage site?

The Strategic Heritage Plan involves the renovation of the Palais des Nations complex, initially built between 1929 and 1938, to dramatically improve its environmental performance, as well as the construction of an efficient new building that will initially be used as a swing space while the retrofit takes place.

Embedded in the landscape, the new building keeps a low profile on the site with a terraced design. It offers access to outdoor spaces and remarkable vantage points from inside, such as a new dining hall that faces the parklands and Lake Geneva. In this workplace that prioritizes well-being, people are immersed in nature. The new building is due to open in 2021, allowing the complete renovation of the Palais des Nations to proceed. Geneva’s refurbished landmark will embody the commitment to climate action that the United Nations continues to advance.

Shenzhen Rural Commercial Bank Headquarters


Photo © Seth Powers

A striking new architectural landmark is nearly complete in Shenzhen’s Bao’an district. The 150-meter-tall Shenzhen Rural Commercial Bank Headquarters appears as a glass volume enveloped in a net of structural steel, pulled away from the facade. It’s the latest evolution in SOM’s decades-long development of diagrid structures — an approach that’s both efficient and sustainable because it reduces the amount of steel required for construction.

Photo © Seth Powers

The design was created with air quality and ventilation as key considerations, and it will be opening at a time when these factors are newly top-of-mind. Operable louvers give the building’s occupants control for natural ventilation, while two expansive atria contribute to better airflow. Even the diagrid structural design contributes to indoor comfort and energy performance by shading the facade and reducing cooling needs. When the building opens next year, it may well set a new benchmark for health and wellbeing.

800 Fulton


Image © SOM

Chicago’s once-industrial Fulton Market district has become a hotspot over the past decade, with warehouse buildings now home to tech companies, and repurposed factories standing side-by-side with new apartments. A distinctive new building at the center of the district is a new milestone in this ongoing transformation. 800 Fulton will mark the gateway to what has become one of Chicago’s most dynamic neighborhoods.

Rising in a series of setbacks and terraces, the 19-story creative office building is proportioned to relate to the rhythm and scale of the historic industrial streetscape. Bold structural design defines the tower, with a series of exposed cross-braces on the east and west facades. SOM’s engineers and architects designed this structural system with Chicago’s winter climate in mind: a movable node at the center of each brace allows for thermal expansion and contraction. The structural design also allows for large, open floor plates. When the building opens in 2021, light-filled workspaces and garden terraces await the next generation of creative tenants.

Mulva Cultural Center

De Pere, Wisconsin

Image © SOM

A small Midwestern city — population 25,000 — will soon be home to an arts venue one might expect to find in a much larger metropolis. The Mulva Cultural Center is poised to become a regionally significant destination at the heart of De Pere, a historic riverfront city located about five miles from Green Bay. Philanthropists James J. and Miriam B. Mulva were inspired to bring world-class exhibitions and cultural programs to their hometown. An elegant, inviting, and contemporary building will become the setting where their vision comes to life.

Poised above the riverfront, the center will be clad in a curtain of transparent glass; it’s envisioned as a “lantern on the riverside,” welcoming visitors from near and far. Inside, a vast atrium creates a sense of openness and connection between cultural programs. A 200-seat auditorium, flexible galleries, classrooms, and a café round out a range of venues for engagement. The material palette of native stone, timber, glass, and neutral metals is inspired by the riverfront location and by the Wisconsin prairies. Construction is due to begin next year.

Fifteen Fifty

San Francisco

Photo © Jason O’Rear

Fifteen Fifty is a mixed-income, mixed-use project that weaves together luxury rentals, affordable housing, and unique retail spaces. Located at an intersection where three San Francisco neighborhoods converge — SoMa, the Mission, and Hayes Valley — the redeveloped site includes a 390-foot apartment tower and the adaptive reuse of a former Coca-Cola bottling plant, as well as a 250-foot office tower. These elements create a new civic center that is as open and dynamic as the neighborhoods and the city it serves.

Photo: Mark Schwettmann © SOM

Fifteen Fifty’s residential tower contains 550 total units, 110 of them designated affordable. The nearby office tower, known as 49 South Van Ness, will support more than 1,800 city workers in diverse layouts that encourage collaboration. The old bottling plant on site will house new retail and its signature clock tower has been preserved, maintaining the building’s distinctive street-level presence. With its integration of living, retail, and social spaces, Fifteen Fifty should serve as a model of sustainable, locally-focused development that strengthens community bonds.

Loyola Marymount University, School of Film and Television

Los Angeles

Image © Nephew

Already home to one of the top-ranked film programs in the U.S., this Los Angeles institution has an exciting new feature in production. Having first tapped SOM to design its School of Film and Television (SFTV) graduate school space, which opened in 2018, Loyola Marymount University is bolstering the SFTV undergraduate program with a state-of-the-art classroom and faculty building. The four-story building is prominently located along LMU’s Alumni Mall, flanked by gardens and courtyards that connect to the heart of the campus. Inside are student and faculty offices, a motion capture studio, a camera-directing studio, as well as a dozen flexible all-purpose classrooms and teaching labs.

Tuned to the Southern California climate, the building design is accentuated by a pleated and perforated sun-shading facade, which maximizes daylight exposure and integrates high-efficiency lighting systems and controls. A select set of classrooms provide a controlled environment for visual displays and editing. Special attention is given as well to acoustical design to meet the requirements for sound capture and production spaces.

Image © Nephew

In front of the main building is an 80-seat theater, clad in semi-reflective metal panels. It features a roof garden breakout space for SFTV students and faculty. When complete, Loyola Marymount plans to use the theater and courtyard for events and film screenings, and also as a venue available to other departments across the university.

Mashreq Bank Headquarters


Image © SOM

Designing for the local climate has always been central to SOM’s design philosophy, and our work in the Middle East has presented a uniquely challenging environment in which to build. In the early 1980s, with the National Commercial Bank Headquarters in Jeddah, SOM invented an altogether new building type — a modernist high-rise that, with its shading and passive ventilation, ingeniously reconciles traditional Eastern and Western building traditions. A new headquarters building in Dubai, due to open next year, represents the evolution of this synthetic, locally sensitive approach.

View looking up from the podium-level roof garden. Photo © SOM

Mashreq Bank Headquarters rises 32 stories above Sheik Zayed Road with a dramatic, cantilevered profile. The bold design serves a purpose: the L-shaped office floors surrounding an interior courtyard are clad in clear glass, while the building’s orientation and the cantilever above shade the interiors from solar heat gain. A sophisticated mesh of horizontal and vertical shading devices help to protect the facades exposed to direct sunlight.

The design thus manages to provide the benefits of a glass enclosure — abundant natural light and sweeping views above the cityscape, including the Burj Khalifa nearby — within a building that effectively shades itself from the desert sun. SOM’s latest contribution to Dubai shows that a building doesn’t need to be the tallest in the world to make a statement.




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