For 80 years, SOM has operated at the forefront of design, engineering, and urban planning. From record-breaking skyscrapers and technological innovations to transformative urban design, this sample of notable achievements demonstrates how SOM's vision and interdisciplinary practice have shaped the built environment.
Achievements: SOM's Pioneering Spirit
Making Lasting Impact
Setting a New Course for Architecture
Founded in 1936, SOM has long been renowned for bringing a combination of design, management, and technical expertise to every project. This revolutionary approach has greatly impacted the profession, inspiring other firms to follow suit. While we have many acclaimed individuals within our ranks, SOM is committed to harnessing and honoring the power of the collective.
The Tower That Changed Everything
With its elegant massing, public space, and sleek glazing, the Lever House was a radical addition to Midtown Manhattan when it opened in 1952. The International Style office tower—the first commercial tower in New York with a glass curtain wall—embodied the spirit of the modern age and set a bold new standard for high-rise architecture.
Inventing the New American Workplace
By the mid 20th century, SOM was the go-to firm for a new type of commission emerging throughout post-war America: the suburban office park. One of our most influential projects was the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company Headquarters, completed in 1957. The complex is celebrated for its clean, open design. Inside, it was more like a village street than a workspace.
Infusing Architecture with Art
When SOM began designing the Chicago Civic Center in the 1960s, we envisioned a large piece of art for the public plaza. In turn, we hired Pablo Picasso to create what would be his first monumental sculpture in America. It’s just one example of our numerous collaborations with leading artists. Site-specific works by Alexander Calder, Isamu Noguchi, Jenny Holzer, and many others grace SOM buildings.
A New Era in Skyscraper Design
Often considered the greatest structural engineer of the 20th century, Fazlur Khan was the engineering mastermind behind many illustrious SOM buildings. His development of the tubular framing system for high-rise construction initiated a new era of skyscraper design. The system was employed in many significant SOM buildings, including the John Hancock Center and Sears Tower.
Building the Foundation for CAD
SOM led the way when it came to computer-aided design, or CAD. To wit: In 1980, we single-handedly created Architecture Engineering Systems, a computer program that was used to study complex structural systems and energy demands. The program is regarded as precursor to the array of building information modeling (BIM) tools now used by the profession.
Empowering Young Designers
Supporting emerging talent has always been an important part of SOM’s mission. In 1979, we started the nonprofit SOM Foundation, whose goal is to enable aspiring architects, engineers, and planners to expand their horizons via travel and research grants. Since its establishment, the foundation has given nearly 240 awards totaling more than $2.1 million.
SOM's Pritzker Winner
In 1937, the legendary Gordon Bunshaft joined SOM, where he thrived for more than 40 years. His many influential works include the Lever House, One Chase Manhattan Plaza, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the Hajj Terminal. Bunshaft garnered numerous accolades during his career, and in 1988 he received the architecture profession’s highest honor, the Pritzker Prize.
Winner of the Most 25-Year Awards
The American Institute of Architects annually bestows its 25-Year Award on remarkable works of architecture that have stood the test of time. Six SOM buildings—more than any other existing firm—have received the honor: Lever House (1980), Cadet Chapel (1996), John Hancock Center (1999), Weyerhaeuser Corporate Headquarters (2001), the Hajj Terminal (2010), and Exchange House (2015).
LEED-ing the Way to Greener Government
The U.S. Census Bureau Headquarters, completed in 2007, was the first federal office building to earn LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The notable project is a study in how to design a large corporate campus that works in concert with its natural surroundings. Sheathed in a wooden brise-soleil, the building employs many sustainable strategies that reduce its impact on the site.
Partnering with Students to Advance Sustainability
In 2008, SOM teamed up with the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to form the Center for Architecture, Science & Ecology (CASE). Based in SOM's New York office, the groundbreaking program brings together scientists, engineers, and architects from the professional and academic worlds to work toward a common goal: redefining how we build sustainable cities and environments.
A Record-Breaking Tower
Soaring 2,722 feet above the desert metropolis of Dubai, the Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. As designer and engineer, SOM developed a pioneering buttressed core structural system that enabled the skyscraper to rise to its superlative height. With 27 setbacks, the mixed-use tower's cross-section becomes slimmer as it climbs higher, and its elegant, slender form refers to minarets.
First Firm to Win National Arts Medal
In 2012, the National Arts Club awarded its coveted Gold Medal to SOM. It was the first time in the venerable organization's 113-year history that it bestowed the medal upon an architecture firm. The club's membership has included U.S. presidents and some of the most important artists and art patrons in America.
Rebuilding the New York Skyline
At 1,776 feet in height, One World Trade Center is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. When it opened in 2014, the 104-story crystalline skyscraper recaptured the New York City skyline, reasserted Lower Manhattan’s preeminence as a business center, and established a new civic icon for the United States.
Setting the Standard for 21st-Century City-Making
With cities facing unprecedented challenges, SOM is designing new models for sustainable, transit-oriented development—like Denver Union Station. An iconic destination that is catalyzing the growth of a vibrant district, the project is expected to boost Colorado's economy by $3 billion through 2020. In 2015, it received a Global Award for Excellence from the Urban Land Institute.