Theses Doctoral

Organization and Abstraction: The Architecture of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill from 1936 to 1956

Jung, Hyun Tae

This dissertation examines the history of the architecture firm, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) between 1936 and 1956. While focusing on the birth and growth of SOM, this study attempts to position the firm in a larger historical development of the United States in the mid-twentieth century. While Louis Skidmore and Nathaniel A. Owings established the firm in 1936, the dissertation begins at the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929. During the 1930s, Skidmore and Owings learned critical lessons from industrial designers about the significance of the public as well as how to attract their attention. The founders discovered the importance of investigating people's reactions to certain forms and spaces, mainly working on small shops and exhibition halls. During WWII, SOM worked on prefabricated houses in the town of Oak Ridge, TN, which was part of the Manhattan Project.

While working confidentially for the military for about three years, SOM mastered diverse kinds of building technology and gained experience with the various programs necessary for a conventional town. In addition, the firm constructed a modern architecture-engineering firm, which could handle complex architectural and engineering projects. As a result of their previous experience, SOM evolved into a leader in designing glass and steel office buildings after WWII, refining the architectural language it had discovered during the war. In the 1950s, the firm continued designing and constructing large town projects for American military and other corporations throughout the world. This dissertation records the shifts in the profession of architecture in each historical context throughout the mid-twentieth century. The first three chapters cover the years from 1929 to 1939, 1939 to 1945, and 1946 to 1956 respectively. The fourth chapter addresses the architecture community's perception of SOM and the firm's organizational characteristics. This dissertation investigates how SOM attempted to modernize architecture as a whole, responding to new materials as well as to the spatial and cultural conditions of the world.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Wright, Gwendolyn
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 18, 2011