C.C. Sullivan -- Interior Design, 11/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
"We're all about innovation," interiors partner Stephen Apking announces. And he isn't just sloganeering. He's challenging his own colleagues to push harder. This competitive bent is deeply ingrained in the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill culture, starting with the indoctrination of talented young recruits—OK, brainwashing—and tempered by a career-building rotation through the firm's various departments.
Since Louis Skidmore and Nathaniel Owings formed their partnership in Chicago, un-starchitects such as Gordon Bunshaft and Bruce Graham have ever insisted on a team approach. Not as well known but just as vital are the likes of Natalie de Blois, who led SOM's first interiors department—assembled for the design of Cincinnati's Terrace Plaza Hotel, 1948.
This competitive-cum-collaborative mind-set has spawned such specialist outgrowths as SOM's "education lab" and "sustainable-design task force," each comprising in-house expertise in crucial slices of the built environment. Another outcome has been an interiors practice that's seemingly on steroids. By dint of inventiveness, the interiors group has ignited the firm's expansion into the hospitality and residential markets.
Of course, the interiors group benefits from local market changes and clients' long coattails. Just as important, though, partner Peter Magill notes: "The clients are purchasers of quality." And whether in Asia, the Middle East, or the Americas, more prefer to hire single-source design providers. That puts SOM in an especially advantageous spot.