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In Memory: Robert Lewis Turner, Former SOM Partner

Robert Lewis Turner, former SOM Design Partner, passed away due to illness on October 12, 2014. He was 67 years old.

Turner joined SOM in 1974 and became a Partner just 10 years later. A talented designer and leader, Turner played an instrumental role in SOM projects around the world and was renowned for encouraging young architects to gain international experience. In a 2011 interview, he said: “At one point at SOM, I and a technical person were responsible for hiring. If a kid came for an interview, the first question I would ask was where they had traveled.”

Turner grew up in Martinsville, Virginia, and studied at Virginia Tech, where he participated in programs that took him to Austria, Italy, and Greece. After earning his Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1972, he set off for New York, where he was hired to be the assistant for the famed architectural photographer, Ezra Stoller.

In 1974, the aspiring designer had the opportunity to join SOM’s Chicago office, which was quickly expanding into international markets. He joined that office and in 1978 moved to Cairo to work on the Arab International Bank & World Trade Center. He was later granted an SOM fellowship to travel to India for one year to study Islamic architecture.

Turner was responsible for a number of important global projects at SOM, including the Lucky Goldstar Headquarters (LG Group) in Seoul, completed in 1982. He was elected to become SOM Partner in 1984; he was in his mid-30s at the time, making him one of the youngest partners in SOM’s history.

In 1986, Turner relocated to London to help establish SOM’s office there. He led key projects in the U.K., including the master plan for Canary Wharf (1990), the European headquarters for Texaco (1992), and the SunLife Insurance Headquarters (1994). Turner also oversaw the World Trade Center in Jordan (1996) and the Atlantico Pavilion in Lisbon, Portugal, which was built for the 1998 World Expo and remains a celebrated venue for special events.

In 1997, at the age of 50, Turner retired from SOM and launched a small practice in Paris. In 2004, he established a scholarship that enables architecture students to study for a summer at Fontainebleau, the UNESCO World Heritage Site in France. He remained very active at his alma mater, and in May, he received Virginia Tech’s University Distinguished Achievement Award for 2014.

Turner will be dearly missed by his colleagues at SOM and will be fondly remembered for his enduring impact on the architecture profession.

Memorial donations may be made to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, 39 Garrett Street, Suite 200, Warrenton, VA 20186 or to a charity of choice.

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