Mimi Zeigerby -- Interior Design, 11/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Even though Victor Hugo wrote ominously that the book would kill the building, monographs have long been the traditional means for architecture practices to take stock of their oeuvre and present it to the public. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill routinely puts out retrospective books. In fact, SOM has published a collection of significant projects every 10 years since the 1950's, pausing to capture the millennium in 2000. "We think about reflecting the firm's history and setting a course for the future," New York director of public relations Elizabeth Kubany says. The most recent title, separate from that series, is Skidmore, Owings & Merrill: The Experiment Since 1936 by Nicholas Adams.
Because these books, although beautifully printed and notably authored, are often light on self-criticism, younger SOM designers—longing for a return to the practice's mid-century rigor—spearheaded the introduction of an alternative. SOM Journal 1, edited by architect and critic Wilfried Wang, came out in 2001, provoking a lively intra-office conversation. Since then, the firm has produced three more installments. "It's a courageous marketing tool," Wang says. A diverse outside jury, which has included artist James Turrell and engineer Cecil Balmond, is invited to review SOM projects. The transcript of the conversations is then printed along with formal interviews, essays, photography, and drawings. To debate whether a building is "gimmicky," as in historian Diane Ghirardo's SOM Journal 4, is pretty standard fare in architectural circles. It becomes unique when that exchange is published by the designers of the very building under discussion.