The New Player in the Skyscraper Game

After nearly 40 years at SOM, where he designed some of the world's tallest buildings, Adrian Smith is striking out on his own

It was a shock to the architectural world when Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) partner Adrian Smith announced last October that he was leaving the company after almost 40 years to start his own practice with fellow ex-SOM designer Gordon Gill. As architect of the Trump International Hotel & Tower, in Chicago; the Jin Mao Tower, in Shanghai; and the United Arab Emirates’ Burj Dubai—slated to be the world’s tallest building—Smith has designed many of the lofty structures reshaping skylines across the globe. At SOM’s Chicago office he held almost every conceivable position, from student intern to CEO; most recently he served for three years as design consulting partner. He was known for large-scale, mixed-use, and supertall projects, as well as the sustainable design seen in the planned 69-story Pearl River Tower—a “zero energy” building that uses wind harvesting, powerful turbines, and other green technologies. The new partnership’s plan to focus on Smith’s expertise will surely bring it into direct competition with his old firm. Metropolis editorial director Paul Makovsky spoke with Smith about his conflicts with SOM, his new venture, and how research on sustainability will play an important role in his future projects.

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