In 2010, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), for the second time in its history, completed the tallest building in the world (this time, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates). Later in the year, it opened the tallest building in Beijing, the China World Trade Center tower. But to T.J. Gottesdiener, the managing partner of the firm’s New York office, SOM’s most exciting project is the one on Staten Island. There, the firm is designing the first net-zero-energy school in New York (and one of the first in the world). The city’s selection of SOM for the 70,000-square-foot P.S. 62 is a sign of both the firm’s green cred and its emergence as a leader in the education sector. Among the firm’s other projects are a campus center for the New School University and a spectacular complex for the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, both in Manhattan.
Financially, the giant firm (which will celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2011) saw welcome stability in 2010. In 2009, facing significant declines in revenue, “we trimmed the sails,” says Gottesdiener. That allowed 2010 to be a year of action, not reaction. “We were running a tight ship, so we’re healthy and on track,” he says.
Design-wise, the firm won awards for such recent projects as the Cathedral of Christ the Light in San Francisco and the Ledge at Skydeck in Chicago (a modification of the SOM-designed Sears (now Willis) Tower. It continued its partnership with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, called the Center for Architectural Science and Ecology (CASE), developing products—with names such as the Integrated Concentrating Solar Façade and the Active Modular Photoremediation System (which won a 2009 ARCHITECT R+D Award)—that demonstrate the firm’s desire to raise building standards industrywide. Its Pearl River Tower, nearing completion in Guangzhou, suggests that a net-zero-energy super-tall tower could someday be feasible. And closer to home—indeed, blocks from the firm’s Wall Street office—another SOM super-tall, 1 World Trade Center recently surpassed the firm’s 7 World Trade Center in height. The building is now rising a floor a week. Says Gottesdiener, “In 2010 we really hit our stride.”