studio visit: designboom tours SOM's chicago headquarters
 
studio visit: designboom tours SOM's chicago headquarters studio visit: designboom tours SOM's chicago headquarters
nov 12, 2015

studio visit: designboom tours SOM's chicago headquarters

studio visit: designboom tours SOM’s chicago headquarters
image © evan thomas

 

 

 

skidmore, owings & merrill is one of the world’s largest and most influential architecture, interior design, engineering, and urban planning firms. founded in 1936 by louis skidmore and nathaniel owings, SOM has now completed over 10,000 projects across more than 50 countries. the company has earned over 1,700 awards and is the only practice to have twice been named ‘firm of the year’ by the american institute of architects.

 

today, SOM has a staff of over 1,000 professionals, working from ten global offices in abu dhabi, chicago, hong kong, london, los angeles, mumbai, new york, san francisco, shanghai, and washington, DC. during the chicago architecture biennial, designboom visited the firm’s headquarters in northern illinois to find out more about the company and the way it operates.

skidmore owings merrill architects SOM studio visit chicago designboom
the office houses approximately 270 individuals, including around 90 architects
image © evan thomas

 

 

 

SOM’s headquarters occupies two stories of chicago’s railway exchange building, a 19th century beaux arts structure in the city’s central business district. completed in 1904 by the architecture firm of daniel burnham, the premises are organized around a central light well. the steel skeleton frame allows for larger windows, while the projecting bays increase the amount of light inside. it was also here where burnham and fellow architect edward h. bennett created the 1909 masterplan for chicago, commonly referred to as the ‘burnham plan’.

skidmore owings merrill architects SOM studio visit chicago designboom
a full-time librarian keeps track of the firm’s expanding palette of available materials
image © evan thomas

 

 

 

in order to maximize internal space, many members of staff have L-shaped desks, while island units provide additional room for project models or material samples. the entire office houses approximately 270 individuals, including around 90 architects in addition to structural engineers and other important members of SOM’s expanding team. with no dividing doors, the studio remains relatively open-plan, while interstitial spaces can be reserved for presentations and impromptu meetings. the firm has a full-time librarian to keep track of the firm’s growing collection of books — and constantly expanding palette of available materials — while an in-house 3D printer allows SOM to produce their own architectural models.

skidmore owings merrill architects SOM studio visit chicago designboom
many members of staff have L-shaped desks, while island units provide additional room for models
image © evan thomas

 

 

 

SOM has been responsible for some of the globe’s largest structures, from chicago’s own ‘willis tower’ (1973) — the tallest in the world for over 20 years — to the ‘burj khalifa’ in dubai, the world’s current tallest building. in 2014, the first offices opened for use in the firm’s landmark one world trade center, commonly known as the ‘freedom tower’. however, as well as practicing at a monumental scale, SOM is increasingly developing a portfolio of more intimately crafted projects, often with an environmentally sustainable sensibility.

skidmore owings merrill architects SOM studio visit chicago designboom
with no dividing doors, the studio remains relatively open plan
image © evan thomas

 

 

 

measuring 320 square feet, a scale model of chicago’s downtown loop is found within the exchange building’s atrium. forming part of the chicago architecture foundation’s permanent collection, the model is updated annually with demolished buildings removed and new 3D printed mini structures added. according to the foundation, it took approximately 1,600 hours to print the entire project, with the railway exchange building alone taking 20 hours to fabricate. a replica of the model in SOM’s office shows the major contribution that the firm has made to the city’s architecture, with their vast number of projects indicated with miniature grey structures.

skidmore owings merrill architects SOM studio visit chicago designboom
SOM has been responsible for some of the globe’s largest structures
image © designboom

skidmore owings merrill architects SOM studio visit chicago designboom
an in-house 3D printer allows SOM to produce their own architectural models
image © designboom

skidmore owings merrill architects SOM studio visit chicago designboom
the projecting bays increase the amount of light inside the office
image © designboom

skidmore owings merrill architects SOM studio visit chicago designboom
SOM’s headquarters occupies two stories of chicago’s railway exchange building
image © designboom

skidmore owings merrill architects SOM studio visit chicago designboom
a scale model of chicago’s downtown loop is found within the exchange building’s atrium
image courtesy of the chicago architecture foundation

skidmore owings merrill architects SOM studio visit chicago designboom
the model is the updated annually with demolished buildings removed and new structures added
image courtesy of the chicago architecture foundation

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