• Bricks & Words #10: ‘Skidmore, Owings & Merrell’

    For many Modernist architects, as well as fans of Modern architecture, SOM were THE practice of the post-war era. Synonymous with the purpose-built homes of America’s corporate giants from the 1940s, 50s and 60s, the firm’s cutting-edge designs set new standards and epitomised a peacetime economy given a boost by the disciplines of war, including organisational research, new technology and European minds. This handsome books is the perfect summary of those Mad Men years.

    Adams captures – in solid prose and superb archive images – the many icons that emerged from the pens of Gordon Bunshaft, Bruce Graham and the rest. The startlingly open jewel box of a bank for Manufacturers Trust on 43rd Street and Fifth Avenue in New York amazes even today, with its great circular vault door hovering behind a sheet-glass façade as if inviting customers to have a go. Soaring into the rarefied air of Colorado Springs, the wing-like chapel for the US Air Force seems ready to fly alongside its worshipers’ aircraft. Stone was made to glow with translucency at the Beinicke Library for Yale. The and Hajj Terminal at Saudi Arabia’s King Abdul Aziz International Airport merges Western with Eastern to astonishing effect. A reminder of a time when architecture really did seem to have all the answers.

    Skidmore, Owings & Merrell: SOM since 1936 (alt. title pictured) by Nicholas Adams (Electa architecture, 2006)

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Chris Rogers writer on architecture and visual culture

Click blog images to expand; pre-Sept 2011 posts here

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