The Engineering of Architecture: An SOM Exhibition

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A Global Skyline

​On view at Architekturgalerie München from January to March 2016, ”The Engineering of Architecture" explores the research, design, and realization of cutting-edge structural engineering projects at SOM.​ The exhibition is anchored around 20 skyscrapers designed for 10 cities around the globe, each modeled at 1:500 scale. Visitors tower next to SOM's tallest buildings as they glimpse some of the firm's most prolific and structurally complex projects.​

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Collaborative Construction

Guided by SOM structural engineers and model builders, a team of students from the Illinois Institute of Technology assembled each model by hand using museum board, laser cutters, and glue in the firm's Chicago offices. Models were created without facades in order to reveal the unique structural framework of each building.

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Structural Clarity

A close look at this model of Liansheng Financial Tower reveals a core tenet of SOM's design philosophy—structural clarity. Designed in 2012 and proposed for Taiyuan, China, the two divergent ductile braced-frame towers are connected by three skybridges.

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SOM Around the World

United by cohesive design values, SOM buildings represent the culmination of a consistent global design methodology. "The Engineering of Architecture" showcases some of the firm's most dynamic projects throughout its 80-year history. Visitors are invited to explore SOM's portfolio in the exhibition, which encompasses a spectrum of building typologies and scales in locations around the world, ​from Seoul to Salt Lake City.

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World Village

Exhibition models, pictured from left to right: Burj Khalifa, Dubai; Burj 2020, Dubai; Liansheng Financial Tower, Taiyuan, China; 7 South Dearborn, Chicago; Lotte Super Tower, Seoul; Nanning Wuxiang ASEAN Tower, Nanning, China; ​Willis Tower, Chicago; Guiyang World Trade Center, Guiyang, China; ​John Hancock Center, Chicago; CITIC Financial Centre, Shenzhen, China; Cayan Tower, Dubai; Tower Palace III, Seoul; Kingtown International Tower, Nanjing, China; Rural Commercial Bank Headquarters, Shenzhen, China; 100 Mount Street, Sydney; DeWitt Chestnut Apartments, Chicago; 111 Main Tower, Salt Lake City; Inland Steel Building, Chicago. Not pictured: Desert Crystal, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; Aspire, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

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Architecture Meets Structure

“If an architect gives you a sketch, don’t take it as a solution, take it as a statement of the problem and then come up with your own counterproposals,” says William F. Baker​, SOM Structural and Civil Engineering Partner​. A defining component of the exhibition called The Intersection of Structure and Architecture includes a variety of sketches, drawings, and renderings that shed light on SOM's collaborative structural engineering and design process.

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The Research Gang

In an interview, Baker discusses developments by the SOM Research Gang: a Chicago-based firmwide team dedicated to the improvement and evolution of design methodologies in architecture and engineering. Designed to replicate Baker's sketch-covered studio, the Research + Future room includes a series of drawings depicting the team's recent breakthroughs in structural engineering.

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Larger Than Life

In the first part of the exhibition, visitors are enveloped by a rigorous grid that spans the white floor and walls of the 4-meter by 12-meter room. Adhering to the rule set by the grid, each model was realized at 1:500 scale​ and placed on the floor, allowing the viewer to stand as a giant among architecture and grasp these buildings—and their relationship to each other—in a new light. Pictured right, the 101-meter (331.4-foot) Inland Steel Building is just 0.2 meters (0.7 feet) tall. At the opposite end of the room, the 1000-meter (3280.8-foot) Desert Crystal stands at 2 meters (6.6 feet) tall.

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The Pursuit of Excellence

Placed in order of ascending height, the hierarchy of the models is emblematic of SOM's pursuit of innovation and excellence in structural engineering. The exhibition incorporates a variety of structural approaches and schemes that have been developed by SOM—from the archetypal work of the 1950s to pioneering endeavors currently underway.

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A Global Effort

The exhibition team drew on talent from SOM offices worldwide​, including (pictured from left to right) Mohamed Sheriff, Bernhard Rettig, Thomas Behr, Mark Sarkisian, Christian Hartz, Kent Jackson, and William F. Baker. Nicola Borgmann of Architekturgalerie München, pictured right, served as the curator.

The exhibition was further developed to be shown at the Utzon Center in Aalborg, Denmark through January 2017, and will continue to travel to additional venues. See the exhibition in Aalborg, Denmark.