2021 Honoree - Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill is a collective of architects, designers, engineers and planners working together to build a better future. SOM is responsible for some of the world’s most technically and environmentally advanced buildings and significant public spaces. Our approach is highly collaborative, and our interdisciplinary team is international. Working from a network of creative studios across the globe, SOM is able to apply international expertise at a local level.

We believe that design is about more than meeting people’s needs—it is the art of realizing their aspirations and changing the way they experience the world. The best results come from a balance of disciplines: planning, interiors, engineering, and architecture. This total design approach means seamless coordination, from the dynamic initial design stages to the pride in seeing users inspired by the end result.

Urgent environmental and social challenges place a greater emphasis on engineering solutions than ever before. The principle of architects and engineers working together is integral to SOM’s culture. It allows us to focus our energies and to use resources economically. By understanding what is possible, we can achieve the seemingly impossible. Together, we can shape the future by applying creativity and emergent technologies to design buildings that anticipate new ways of living, working and learning.

Moynihan Train Hall, New York (2020)
Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport Terminal 2, Mumbai (2014)
Shenzhen Rural Commercial Bank Headquarters, Shenzhen (2020)

SOM is driven to answer the most urgent challenge of our time—to protect the Earth’s resources and support the transition to a zero-carbon economy. We must take responsibility, individually and collectively, for the future of our planet. As architects, engineers, and planners, we are positioned to lead the charge by shaping buildings and cities to advance sustainable development.

One of SOM’s strengths is the ability to channel our collective expertise to innovate and inspire change. Our Climate Action Group brings together representatives from every discipline and office to guide a holistic approach to environmental leadership. Its mandate is to advance the practical strategies that can decarbonize our cities, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and address the impacts of climate change. We assess every project against these goals.

We believe in the principle articulated by Nathaniel Owings, one of the firm’s founders, in 1971: “Civilizations leave marks on the Earth by which they are known and judged. In large measure, the nature of their immortality is gauged by how well their builders made peace with the environment.”

Disney New York City, 4 Hudson Square New York, NY, ongoing
SOM’s new headquarters for the Walt Disney Company’s New York operations aims to be all-electric, future-proofing the project and making it net zero-ready. A cascading set of green roof terraces will reduce stormwater runoff while providing outdoor space for building users. Note: because the project is in progress, this information is confidential.
U.C. Merced Sustainable Campus ExpansionMerced, CA, ongoing
Our plan sets an example for urban growth, showing how a population increase can coexist with the preservation of a regional ecosystem. Thanks to many years of work on the part of SOM, the university, and our partners, the campus has achieved full carbon neutrality. It is now targeting Triple Net Zero, encompassing energy, waste, and carbon.
Xiong’an New Area Urban Design Hebei, China, ongoing
For the Xiong’an New Area, envisioned as China’s “city of the future,” SOM is creating a new model for sustainable development. The plan envisions a net zero energy district intertwined with a restored ecosystem based around a freshwater lake. It is designed to the meet the highest standards for sustainability, resiliency, and wellness.
SOM New York Office New York, NY, 2020
For our new New York office, SOM created a rigorous set of criteria to hone in on the most sustainable material palette possible. This is an effort that is underway across the firm as part of all of our work, with the goal of decarbonizingand de-chemicalizing all of the firm’s specifications. Maximizing wellbeing was also a crucial driver of the design, which is targeting WELL Platinum certification.
Billie Jean King Main Library Long Beach, CA, 2019
Long Beach’s new public library demonstrates how SOM targets not just operational carbon but also embodied carbon. With a structure of sustainably sourced, cross-laminated timber, the LEED Platinum-certified building is an exemplar in whole-life sustainable design. Its sustainable features also enhance visitors’ experience of the building, creating a warm, inviting, and light-filled interior.
U.S. Air Force Academy Center for Character & Leadership Development Colorado Springs, CO, 2016
For the Xiong’an New Area, envisioned as China’s “city of the future,” SOM is creating a new model for sustainable development. The plan envisions a net zero energy district intertwined with a restored ecosystem based around a freshwater lake. It is designed to the meet the highest standards for sustainability, resiliency, and wellness.
JTI Headquarters Geneva, Switzerland, 2015
At the time of its construction, the showcase headquarters for JTI was the largest commercial building to achieve the strict Minergie standard, based on Passive House standards. Our sustainable design strategies— from radiant ceiling heating to a geometric facade that reduces direct sunlight—help the building exceed the demanding efficiency targets of Swiss national codes.
Kathleen Grimm School (P.S. 62) New York, NY, 2015
Located in Staten Island, the Kathleen Grimm School for Leadership and Sustainability is the first net-zero-energy school in New York City and one of the first in the world. The cutting-edge building harvests as much energy from renewable on-site sources as it uses and complies with the SCA Green Schools Guide. It has since become a benchmark for public schools nationwide.
U.S. Census Bureau Headquarters Suitland, MD, 2007
SOM’s design for the Census Bureau Headquarters helped create a new, sustainable typology for government buildings. Of particular note is our use of a narrow floor plate to maximize daylighting as well as a brise- soleil integrated shading system made of sustainably sourced timber—long before these features developed into industry trends.
Hajj Terminal, King Abdulaziz International Airport Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 1981
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. By taking advantage of traditional methods, it mitigates the desert climate entirely through passive strategies. Serving over one million pilgrims each year, itis the only airport of its kind in the world.
Weyerhaeuser Headquarters Federal Way, WA, 1971
Built during the era of suburban office parks dominated by parking lots, this iconic office campus— replete with landscaped terraces, a botanical garden, and public hiking trails—helped establisha new paradigm for integrating a large building into the natural ecosystem. The project had a profound influence nationwide and helped form the DNA of SOM’s approach to sustainable design.
875 North Michigan Avenue Chicago, IL, 1970
875 North Michigan is one of the world’s first all-electric supertalls and an architectural icon that demonstrates the power of collaboration between architects and engineers. Thanks to a novel structural system created by Fazlur Khan, the building is also a model of material efficiency: it rises 100 stories and yet its steel usage per square foot is equivalent to that of typical 50-story towers.
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
7 World Trade Center, 250 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10007