Dozens of projects designed by SOM are featured at the 14th International Architecture Exhibition at the 2014 Venice Biennale. The selections, on view at the American Pavilion, catalog more than a half-century of SOM’s accomplishments around the world. This slideshow aims to condense more than 500 pages of SOM history on display at the Biennale. Click through to see some of the firm's most notable work abroad over six decades.
60 Years of SOM’s Global Achievements on View at Venice Biennale
60 Years of SOM Abroad
Istanbul Hilton Hotel
The Istanbul Hilton, one of Turkey's earliest modern buildings, is perched atop a promontory overlooking the Bosphorus. Guest rooms occupy an eight-story main structure above the public levels. A bar, dance terrace, and gardens are located on the roof, which overlook swimming pools, tennis courts, and an open-air theater, among other outdoor facilities. The building's reinforced concrete skeleton is based on a two-room module. Supporting columns are fully exposed on the two lower levels; on the upper floors, they are concealed by the overhanging balcony grid.
Located on 63 acres of greenbelt landscape known as Hayes Park, the original Heinz Corporate Headquarters included an administration and research center connected by an underground link. The exquisite quality and precision achieved in the precast frames for the two buildings established new standards for precast construction in the United Kingdom. In 1999, SOM was commissioned to renovate the buildings and to design a new building and car park for the complex. The scheme respected both the scale and appearance of the original site.
Designed by SOM's Gordon Bunshaft, this distinctive building occupies an entire city block along Avenue Marnix, one of the great thoroughfares of Brussels. The structure stands on a travertine-clad podium and is composed of three elements: a glass-enclosed ground floor with entrance halls and public banking rooms; seven stories of subdivided office space and private offices; and a penthouse space that once served as a luxurious apartment for Baron Leon Lambert. The bearing structure of the building is made of reinforced concrete. The ribbed floor slabs are supported by columns and, at the outer perimeter, by cross-shaped precast concrete units that form the facades outside the glass walls.
Boots Pure Drug Company
This 220,000-square-foot headquarters building wraps a central courtyard, enabling light to penetrate the interior. To be compatible with a 27-acre meadowland site, the main floor is placed below grade so that the exterior reads as a low-slung, single-story mass. Enclosed by a bronze-anodized aluminum window wall, the upper floor has a freestanding structural frame of black painted steel. Key elements in the open and flexible interior are freestanding carrels with 5-foot partitions and interchangeable parts. Middle management offices are enclosed with floor-to-ceiling bronze glass, providing an element of privacy.
Chase Manhattan Bank
San Juan, Puerto Rico
This 15-story, 285,000-square-foot bank branch is located in the Hato Rey business district of San Juan. Travertine columns, polished plate glass, and bronze details give the 213-foot-tall tower a rich, sumptuous quality. The building also responds to its climate: its deeply recessed glass panes minimize heat from southern exposure.
Johannesburg, South Africa
A 50-story office building, a 600-room luxury hotel, and a department store are the main programmatic elements of this complex in downtown Johannesburg. These elements are grouped around a large circular court. The entire complex is made of poured-in-place concrete, with above-grade structures featuring an integral finish of local gray granite exposed by sandblasting.
W.D. & H. O. Wills Tobacco Processing Plant + Corporate Headquarters
At this 1-million-square-foot factory, automated cigarette making and packing activities were housed in a 300- by 700-foot column-free space. The open layout provided maximum flexibility for accommodating processing machinery, which was rapidly developing. Throughout the facility, particular care was taken to develop systems to ensure employee comfort and optimum conditions for tobacco preservation. Adjoining the factory on the 57-acre site was a seven-story corporate office building. The buildings were clad in weathered steel with bronze windows.
This 44-story office tower, located in La Défense, a high-rise business district west of Paris, is clad in a dark, sumptuous granite. The project’s original interiors were also the work of SOM. The Agnelli suite, designed for brothers Gianni and Umberto Angelli, the famed Italian industrialists, was perched atop the tower. Reached by a spherical private elevator with walls faced in red velvet, the suite included a bedroom, bathroom, sauna, executive offices, a boardroom, and entertaining rooms. Materials and colors were selected to complement an existing art collection. Although the space was less than 10,000 square feet, the plan conveyed a sense of palatial proportions.
Yanbu New Community
Yanbu, Saudi Arabia
This master plan called for the creation of a new town on a 13,580-acre site bordering the Red Sea. Petrochemical production and shipping were to serve as the primary employment base for the town's projected population of 150,000. The central planning concept provided a clearly defined physical framework that respected two overriding concerns: the region's harsh climate and the cultural diversity of inhabitants. The plan proposed shade at every opportunity, as well as privacy between neighborhood districts and individual buildings.
The Hajj Terminal is located at the King Abdul Aziz International Airport, located 43 miles west of the Holy City of Mecca. For its design of the terminal, SOM utilized the highly identifiable form of the Bedouin tent to create a marvel that was the world’s largest cable-stayed, fabric-roofed structure. The naturally ventilated building is topped by 210 semi-conical, Teflon-coated fiberglass roof units that are contained within a total of 10 modules. The modules are supported by 45-meter-high steel pylons. The complex contains facilities for sleep, food preparation, and various support services. It serves as a physically welcoming, culturally symbolic, and structurally innovative portal for more than one million pilgrims annually.
The desire to take advantage of the spectacular views of Jeddah and the Red Sea led to the design of this distinctive building. Set in a 1.2-hectare plaza on the edge of the sea, the 27-story triangular bank is flanked by a helical parking garage. Instead of individual windows in the tower's travertine enclosure, colossal openings allow light into the interior across three landscaped courtyards. Each of the V-shaped floors are shielded from direct sun and wind. A central wall that extends from the skylight of the first floor up through the roof allows accumulated heat to rise out of the building. In developing this form, SOM incorporated two important features found in traditional Islamic architecture: natural ventilation and inward orientation.
Royal Dutch Shell Bank Headquarters
The Hague, Netherlands
The Royal Dutch Shell Petroleum Company required that the design of its new headquarters remain in keeping with European tradition. As such, the space primarily consists of individual offices that receive natural light. They are also organized around interior courts and atria, forming an articulated, contextually sensitive perimeter. The use of brick and traditional sun control responds to the character of the city and the adjacent 1920s building by Dutch architect Hendrik Berlage.
University of Blida
Located in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains southwest of Algiers, the University of Blida was designed to serve 10,000 students. The core hospital consists of diagnostic and surgery blocks, outpatient clinics, and bedcare units. The diagonally sited buildings step down the modest slope of the site. To increase their seismic stability, each long block is designed as a series of small, structurally independent elements with expansion joints and exterior service towers. The entire university uses local materials, in-situ concrete frames, and masonry infill. Operable, wooden-frame windows enable cross ventilation inside buildings.
This 100,000-square-foot headquarters building responds to its context by employing elements of vernacular architecture. The 12-story building is focused inward: open office areas wrap a full-height atrium, a reference to the traditional Islamic courtyard. This central space is bridged at three levels by glass block terraces, each landscaped with flowering vines and a shallow square pool. Light from outside enters the atrium through a pattern of narrow slots in the northeast wall. The tower’s thick precast concrete facade offers relief from the glaring sun, while a sophisticated glazing strategy creates cool, daylit spaces for those working inside.
One of the largest office developments in London, this 14-phase complex features a vibrant tapestry of buildings, bridges, and plazas in the city's financial district. Much of the mixed-use development was built over active British Rail platforms and railway tracks leading into Liverpool Street Station. The buildings are designed in a variety of styles, recalling the architectural order of large civic centers found throughout London.
Northwest Frontier Province Agricultural University
This master plan for the 430-acre Peshawar campus was the first phase of a USAID (United States Agency for International Development) expansion program intended to help Pakistan become agriculturally self-sufficient. In the mid 1980s, the university, a center for agricultural education and research, was expanding greatly, not only doubling the student population but also admitting the first female students. The plan called for new research facilities, a student and faculty center, administrative offices, dining facilities, a health center, and a farm center. The scheme made the most of the region’s hot climate, siting buildings to reduce sun exposure and provide natural ventilation.
For more than two decades, SOM has collaborated with the City of London and community leaders in the planning and building of Canary Wharf. Designed to accommodate a flourishing financial sector and breathe new life into a vacated industrial zone, SOM’s master plan established a roadmap for one of the largest urban revitalization projects in the modern era. The plan identified 20-plus building sites spread across four districts and created a robust public transportation network. SOM designed several key buildings and collaborated with artists to create unique railings, gates, fixtures, and fountains. Canary Wharf is now a thriving employment hub for East London and a catalyst for its broader regeneration.
SOM’s extension to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre became a prototype for convention center design worldwide. The principal design element is a distinctive roof whose undulating, wing-like forms create an iconic image for the city. The roof allows for a dramatic, 75-foot-high vaulted ceiling above the convention hall, with column-free spans of 80 meters. The extension contains a broad range of facilities, including three exhibition halls, two theaters, 52 meeting rooms, seven restaurants, and various support facilities.
Evoking the magnificent sailing ships of Portugal’s Golden Age of Discovery, SOM’s competition-winning Atlantico Pavilion (now called MEO Arena) features an asymmetrical, oxidized zinc roof that appears to float above a glass-walled vestibule. The ovoidal building’s interior is a cathedral-like space, with dramatic laminated-wood trusses that span up to more than 115 meters. A curtain wall allows views of the Tagus River, while operable skylights provide daylighting and natural ventilation.
The 420-meter-high Jin Mao Tower was China’s tallest building at the time of its completion. Recalling historic pagoda forms, with setbacks that create a rhythmic pattern, the 88-story tower has become a model for skyscraper design throughout the country. A 555-room hotel, offering impressive views of the city and surrounding terrain, occupies the top 38 floors, while offices make up the lower 50. Advanced structural engineering techniques protect the building from the typhoons and earthquakes typical of the area. The structure’s metal-and-glass curtain wall reflects the city’s constantly changing skies, while at night the tower shaft and crown are illuminated.
20 Bank Street is the second building in Canary Wharf designed by SOM for Morgan Stanley. The first, on Founders Court, was designed by SOM architect Bruce Graham in a transitional heritage style using red granite and limestone. The new facility needed to visually connect to the first building to reinforce a consistent corporate image. Clad in granite, 20 Bank Street features a grid-frame structure with a skylit atrium. The building's core is located on the east, acting as a barrier against an adjacent railway station. To compensate for the lack of light and eastern views, the structure has a U-shaped configuration from the third through to the ninth floors. A welcoming atrium is illuminated via an expansive skylight and a grand glass cable wall on the west.
Located in a business district in Madrid, this building was conceived as a modern framed pavilion with a simple prismatic shape and a high-quality exterior envelope. A grand roof extends beyond the building, creating “external rooms” on the front and rear elevations. The greatest projection to the south acts as a brise-soliel, providing shade and creating a porte-cochere entrance to the building. Full-height floating stainless steel screens protect the fully glazed east and west facades. Fixed louvers allow filtered daylight to enter offices, and a series of outdoor terraces offer a shady respite from the intense Iberian sun.
The Knowledge and Innovation Community is located within a thriving tech district in Shanghai. The development encompasses research, retail, and office space, along with cultural elements — all intended to create a vibrant community where new ideas can flourish and be brought to market. Glazed buildings along the site’s eastern edge provide light-filled offices for emerging companies, while larger, stone structures accommodate established businesses. A conference center on the north end and retail and educational buildings on the south help energize the area and attract visitors from nearby universities and an adjacent tech park.
For the Poly Corporation, SOM created a striking headquarters that unifies the company's various subsidiaries. The building incorporates 24 stories of office space built around a 90-meter-tall atrium enclosed by the world’s largest cable-net-supported glass wall. Its triangular form minimizes the perimeter exposure to the elements, while interior atria give office areas maximum access to daylight. The building also houses the Poly Museum, contained within an eight-story "hanging lantern" that is suspended from the building's atrium via four parallel strand bridge cables.
Located in the city’s historic center, Beijing Finance Street contains a diverse mix of commercial and residential buildings, in addition to ample public space. SOM’s master plan capitalized on the city’s tremendous economic energy and addressed the resulting challenges of improving transportation and air quality. The scale is unmistakably pedestrian, which reflects the client’s goal to create both formal and informal meeting places. A network of lush gardens, courtyards, and landscaped pathways weave between buildings and result in a walkable environment. The district is anchored by the “Great Urban Atrium,” a crescent-shaped structure that opens onto a central park.
The U.S. Embassy complex in Beijing is one of the largest embassies ever built by the federal government. To mitigate its scale and create a welcoming aesthetic, SOM divided the campus into “neighborhoods” based on functional requirements. Eight buildings make up the 4-hectare site. The centerpiece is a gleaming, eight-story glass box whose curtain wall shifts between transparent, translucent, and opaque glass panels. At night, the illuminated office building calls to mind a traditional paper lantern. Walkways wind through the grounds, while courtyards and pockets of green space evoke historic Chinese gardens. The visual arts also influenced the site’s design: In addition to donated works by Ellsworth Kelly and Louise Bourgeois, Jeff Koons was commissioned to create a sculpture for the complex.
This office and hotel building is the centerpiece of the Esentai Park Master Plan and the tallest building in central Asia. The beauty of the snow-capped peaks of the Tien Shan Mountain Range, which borders the city of Almaty, was the primary design inspiration. An elegant, crystalline form and the icy transparency of the exterior skin—where a pattern of ceramic frit frosts the surface and reinforces its vertical proportions—establish the tower as a unique landmark on Al-Farabi Avenue.
Almaty Financial District
Positioned along one of Almaty’s main thoroughfares, this striking glass facility was the first project to be completed in the Almaty Financial District, an expansive mixed-use development that SOM master planned. The building serves as the new Almaty headquarters for Kazkommertsbank, one of the largest corporate and retail banks in Central Asia. Consisting of more than 18,000 square meters of space, the building contains offices, banking halls, dining facilities, and a conference center. Column-free interior spaces allow for flexible, adaptable office layouts, and a raised floor system enables easy upgrades as technology advances.
A prominent location combined with innovative sculptural form give this headquarters building a significant presence in Bahrain Bay, a mixed-use, waterfront development. A spacious rectilinear volume is perched atop a sculptural plinth that resembles rolling waves. The upper portion contains 18,500 square meters of office space, with ample glazing offering sweeping views of the water. Louvers situated between a double-layer curtain wall help mitigate solar heat gain. The building’s lower portion features public amenities including lobbies, restaurants, an auditorium, and a contemporary art gallery.
Rising from a bustling intersection within the city of Nanjing, this 89-story triangular tower was elegantly designed in response to its program and context. The stepped form indicates the uses within: The lower portion of the building contains office and retail space, while the upper levels house a hotel, restaurant, and public observatory. The skyscraper offers sweeping views of a nearby lake, the surrounding mountains, and the city's many historic buildings.
Soaring 830 meters above the metropolis of Dubai, the Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building. The design for the 162-story tower combines local cultural influences with cutting-edge technology to achieve high performance in an extreme desert climate. The tower’s overall design was inspired by the geometries of a regional desert flower and the patterning systems embodied in Islamic architecture. Built of reinforced concrete and clad in glass, the building is composed of three elements arranged around a central buttressed core. As it rises from a flat base, setbacks occur at each element in an upward spiraling pattern, reducing the tower’s mass as it reaches skyward. At the pinnacle, the central core emerges and is sculpted to form a spire.
Embodying quiet and purposeful elegance, China World Trade Center is the tallest building in Beijing and the centerpiece of the Central Business District. The tower's base is folded seamlessly into the urban fabric and visually anchors the tapering spire. Fritted glass and metal fins on the tower’s facades help mitigate solar heat gain while maximizing daylighting — features that helped the project earn LEED® Gold certification. This textured surface reads as a waterfall of light and detail.
Reaching a height of 412 meters, this award-winning skyscraper is the tallest building in Kuwait. A desire to maximize views of the Arabian Gulf while minimizing solar heat gain inspired the office tower’s asymmetrical form, which calls to mind the traditional robes worn by Kuwaitis. A quarter of each floor plate is chiseled out of the south side, shifting from west to east over the height of the building. The result reveals a rich, monolithic stone at the south wall framed by the graceful, twisting “ribbon” walls that gesture toward the sky.
Tianjin Global Financial Center, located in the historic heart of Tianjin, embodies the city’s international prominence as a physical and cultural gateway to China. Across the Haihe River from Tianjin’s high-speed rail and transit hub, the 337-meter tower marks the city center and provides an iconic visual point of reference. The tower extends the existing riverfront promenade to create a compact and walkable downtown, as well as a modern identity for the city. Tianjin Global Financial Center’s structural framework is uniquely slender for a region with high wind loads.
This 280-meter-high tower is the tallest building in Zhengzhou, a fast-growing metropolis in north-central China. Conceived as a classical column, the skyscraper glows like a beacon at night and sits at the heart of a new mixed-use development. The tower houses offices on its lower floors and a hotel on the upper levels. SOM utilized advanced environmental technologies in the design of the building. Aluminum screens are configured at an outward cant to enhance daylighting, while a solar reflector on the tower’s crown funnels sunlight into the hotel atrium. The building also features a smart-control system that utilizes an internal stack effect and external wind pressure to create a well-ventilated environment.
A helical skyscraper that makes a distinct mark on the Dubai skyline, Cayan Tower is at once remarkable and subtle. The residential tower is a pure expression of the idea that a building’s form should directly follow its structural framework. While its 73 floorplates are all identical, each is slightly rotated against the story below it, resulting in a full 90-degree twist over the course of the tower's 307-meter rise. The benefits of this unique form are manifold: Wind load and solar heat gain are reduced compared to a rectilinear building of the same height, and a greater number of tenants are afforded desirable views of the nearby marina and gulf.
The 213,700-square-meter Pearl River Tower embodies cutting edge green technology and engineering. The 309-meter tower’s sleek, aerodynamic form arose from a careful understanding of solar and wind patterns. The sculpted body not only harnesses the sun’s path for optimal daylighting with little solar heat gain; it also directs prevailing winds to a pair of openings at the mechanical floors, where wind turbines generate clean energy for the building.
Measuring 4.4 million square feet, the striking Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport Terminal 2 is expected to serve 40 million travelers per year, nearly twice as many as the building it replaces. The new terminal combines international and domestic passenger services under one roof, optimizing terminal operations and reducing passenger walking distances. Inspired by the form of traditional Indian pavilions, the new four-story terminal stacks a grand “headhouse,” or central processing podium, on top of highly adaptable and modular concourses below. Rather than compartmentalizing terminal functions, all concourses radiate outward from the headhouse, permitting them to swing between domestic and international service.