Day 66/365 of Steel – Nathaniel Owings

Nathaniel Alexander Owings (d. June 13, 1984) was an American architect, and founding partner of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which became one of the largest architectural firms in the United States and the world. Owings viewed skyscrapers as his firm’s specialty. His reputation rested on his ability to be what he called “the catalyst,” the person in his firm who ironed out differences among clients, contractors and planning commissions.

John Merrill, Nathaniel Owings, and Louis Skidmore.
Fig 1: John Merrill, Nathaniel Owings, and Louis Skidmore.
Photo courtesy of SOM

In 1939 engineer John O. Merrill joined the firm as partner. The name was changed to Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and the firm’s operations were decentralized. Owings’s initial responsibilities centered on the Chicago office. Skidmore worked in New York.

Lever House In New York
Fig 2: Lever House In New York
Image by Brookfield Properties courtesy of SOM

SOM developed its reputation for reliability in large developments, and became one of the largest and most talked-about skyscraper builders in the 1950’s. The firm helped to popularize the International style during the postwar period.

The merger of architecture and structural engineering has been SOM’s hallmark for decades. From the glass and steel facade of Lever House, completed in 1952 as the first modernist office building in New York City; to the record-breaking skyscrapers, Sears Tower and John Hancock Center, which redefined the Chicago skyline in the 1970s; to the cantilevered trusses of San Francisco International Airport, opening a gateway to the city for the new millennium; and the engineering of Burj Khalifa, which stands as the world’s tallest building, SOM continues to innovate.

Chase Manhattan Plaza
Fig 4: Chase Manhattan Plaza
Courtesy of SOM

The list of prestigious projects designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) between the 50’s and today is endless, I’ve made a personal choice (off course focusing on those buildings where steel played a major role – which by the way is very often the case with SOM).

JTI Headquarters designed by SOM
Fig 5: JTI Headquarters designed by SOM
Connecticut General Life Insurance Company Headquarters
Fig 6: Connecticut General Life Insurance Company Headquarters
© Ezra Stoller
Denver Union Station
Fig 7: Denver Union Station
© Magda Biernat

About the Author:

Bruno Dursin – Managing Director at Believe in Steel. Bruno has more than 30 years of experience in promoting steel & steel solutions. His clients benefit from his extensive network within the building industry.

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