After the tragic events of September 11, 2001, there were plans to rebuild on the site almost immediately. There was understandably a great deal of public interest in the project, which was initially full of controversy and discord. Many groups had vested interest in the kind and design of the buildings that would replace the World Trade Center—the New York City Port Authority, the residents of the city, and victims’ groups. There were times, when the controversy was at its most heated, when the eyes of the entire nation and even the world were upon those who were charged with the huge responsibility of rebuilding.
Not since the rebuilding in the 1990s of Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz, redeveloped after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, has there been a comparable undertaking in architecture: What do you build on a site that holds such an important place in the history of a modern nation, one that inspires such emotion? It had to be done correctly. Many architectural firms clamored to be ones to design the buildings in such a site. One of the firms that were awarded the project was the important and historical architectural firm, Skidmore, Ownings, & Merrill (SOM).
SOM was actually awarded two buildings to design on the site of what’s now known as “Ground Zero.” The first, Tower 7, which was the third building to collapse and the first to be rebuilt, was completed in 2006. Even though SOM withdrew from the competition to design WTC 1, or the “Freedom Tower,” they were awarded the project anyway, and are involved in its construction currently underway.
It’s not at all surprising that SOM would be involved in this important project. Established in Chicago in the 1930s, it has attained standing as one of the most prestigious and successful architectural and engineering firms in the U.S. It did this by making a name for themselves as one of the foremost experts in high-end and commercial buildings, and by leading the industry in the modern international-style or “glass box” skyscraper. Some of SOM’s most famous buildings include the Sears Tower and John Hancock Center in Chicago, the famous Lever House in New York City, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and the Bank of America World Headquarters in San Francisco.
SOM, which was formed in 1936 by Louis Skidmore and Nathaniel Owings, and later joined by John Merrill in 1939, has had a rich and varied history. They dominated the architectural field throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and have remained strong, in spite of the changing tastes of the nation during the 90s. Some would say that the early years of the 21st century have been the company’s best years. Top architectural talents have always worked for SOM, and have changed the architectural landscape of an entire nation.
SOM continues to win awards for their innovation, creativity and quality. They have won over 800 awards throughout their history; they have received over 125 since 1998. SOM is the only architectural firm in history to win the prestigious American Institute of Architects firm award twice, in 1962 and in 1996. Their most recent award, the architecture award of the Chicagoans of the Year prize, was won by SOL’s Chicago branch office, the flagship of the company. And in January 2010, their Burj Dubai building in Dubai, UAE—the tallest building in the world—will open.
There are those that say older companies tend to become stagnant and lose their way. This hasn’t been the case for Skidmore, Ownings, & Merrill. They continue to lead their industry in innovation, creativity, and quality. Practically an American institution, SOM was the perfect choice to design what is sure to become a symbol of the resiliency and determination of an entire nation, the “Freedom Tower” in New York City.