Anyone who has taken an Architecture History class already knows SOM: Skidmore & Owings & Merrill. This practice played a key role during the so-called “International Style”, in a time where the modernism was being consolidated around the world. The practice, which opened in 1936, is behind the centers of the most important cities of the USA and now the rest of the world. One day I was walking by San Francisco´s Downtown with a friend, and he was pointing buildings: “SOM, SOM, SOM, SOM… and that one I think is also by SOM”.
Currently the practice has become one of the largest AEC firms in the world, with over 10,000 projects dealing with architecture, engineering and design. They have offices in Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., London, Brussels, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.
But what is interesting is how the firm grew over the years, becoming one of the largest AEC practices in the world with over 10,000 projects. But don´t think about this practice as a building generating machine… what is interesting is how they have managed to keep innovating over the years. A hard task, specially when becoming a large corporate practice with a complex structure. But SOM has been up to the challenge. The Burj Dubai will soon become a case study in terms of structural engineering, the Cathedral of Christ The Light in Oakland has an innovative design, materialized using digital tools to fasten the design/building process, and their award winning detailed model of San Francisco has become a strategic tool to work within the city. And that’s just to name a few.
Recently, Fast Company named SOM among the 50 Most Innovative Companies, and Architect Magazine recently awarded five SOM projects with their R+D Award: The San Francisco Digital Model, the Oasis Generator, the Pine-Fuse Joint system, the Active Phytoremediation Wall System, and the Sustainable Form-Inclusion System. After these projects you can see that SOM is not a typical corporate practice, always researching and pushing architecture forward.
And well, we wanted to know more about the ideas and the process behind a corporate practice always innovating, and we had the chance to sat down with Craig Hartman (FAIA), Design Partner at SOM working at the San Francisco office.
Craig has been behind the award winning Treasure Island Master Plan, the Cathedral of Christ the Light (where the interview was conducted), the SFO International Terminal… and more projects.
I hope you like this interview, specially the young architects that are starting their own firms.