People, Press Releases

Architect John O. Merrill Jr., Former Partner at SOM, Dies at Age 90

Architect John O. Merrill Jr., FAIA, the son of a founder of SOM, died on April 25, 2014, at his home in Tiburon, California. He was 90 years old. Merrill was the Partner in Charge of many of SOM’s widely regarded projects including the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel in Hawaii; the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in California; the former Bank of America World Headquarters in San Francisco; and the Weyerhaeuser Corporate Headquarters in Washington.

During his 40-year career at SOM, Merrill had a significant impact not only on the firm, but also on some of the most celebrated architecture of the 20th century. In the late 1960s, Merrill, with frequent collaborator and SOM Design Partner Charles Bassett, oversaw the design of the headquarters for the Weyerhaeuser Corporation. Decades before green roofs were popularized, the designers planted lush greenery on the stepped-back terraces that characterize the distinctive, five-story office building. Floor to ceiling windows were run interrupted along each level, blurring the boundary between inside and out. Boundaries were further eliminated indoors, where carefully placed columns and a lack of full-height partitions gave rise to an open office landscape.

“With John’s leadership, SOM brought an approach to integrated design that hadn’t been seen before on the West Coast,” said SOM Managing Partner Gene Schnair, FAIA. “John’s focus and insistence on design excellence continue to deeply influence our practice.”

Merrill began his career with SOM in San Francisco in 1949. In 1952 he took over the leadership of the firm’s former office in Portland, Oregon, and in the following eight years, he established SOM's strong reputation in the Pacific Northwest. He quickly rose to the level of Associate (in 1953) and then Associate Partner (in 1954). He was elevated to Partner in 1957 and served as a senior Managing Partner until his retirement in 1989. In addition to his important contribution to the firm’s West Coast practice, he worked internationally in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Australia, Russia, and France. Along the way he was elected to be a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

Merrill's influence reached far beyond the firm. He served as President of the AIA San Francisco chapter in 1976, and he was instrumental in achieving AIA San Francisco’s Affirmative Action Plan for Women in Architecture. Moreover, he was elected to serve as Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the San Francisco Art Institute at a time when the 75-year old institution was near collapse due to student unrest and financial problems. Merrill instituted student and faculty reforms as well as fundraising efforts to save this important cultural asset.

JOHN O. MERRILL JR., FAIA (1923-2014)

Born: Evanston, Illionis
Enlisted in the Army Air Corp as an Aviation Cadet: 1942 at age 19
Joined SOM SF: 1949
Helped establish SOM Portland: 1952
Associate: 1953
Associate Partner: 1954
Elected Partner: 1957
Retired: 1989 

Wife: Elizabeth
Children: John O.Merrill III, Alison Doughty, Jennifer Martin, Lindsey Kauffman, Charles Merrill, Katherine Alvarez (from his first marriage to Margaret Feld) and Ross Batt
Education: University of Wisconsin, University of Minnesota, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Resident: Tiburon, California