After working together on the Century of Progress Exposition, Louis Skidmore (1897-1962) and his brother-in-law Nathaniel Owings (1903-1984) established an architectural firm in 1936 in Chicago. Skidmore, who had completed his studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1924, opened a second office in New York City, while Owings, who earned his degree at Cornell University in 1927, led the Chicago office. In 1939 the two were joined by MIT graduate John Merrill, Sr. (1896-1975) and the firm adopted the name Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). Since that time, SOM has grown to become one of the largest architectural firms in the world.
The firm's multidisciplinary team of architects and structural engineers pioneered the skyscraper and is responsible for some of the tallest buildings in the world. Their Sears Tower in Chicago, built in 1973, was the tallest building in the world for more than 20 years. SOM is credited with leading the Modernist movement in architecture, as exemplified by their design for the U.S. Air Force Academy Chapel and Manhattan’s Lever House. Their designs often adhere to Modernist ideals that reject ornamentation and use concrete and glass as primary building materials. SOM has practiced collaboratively with several notable landscape architects including Dan Kiley and Lawrence Halprin.