Gordon Bunshaft, Portfolio of SOM Projects

exterior panels of stone instead of glass windows
Detail of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale, New Haven, Connecticut. Photo by Enzo Figueres/Moment Mobile Collection/Getty Images

From 1937 until his retirement in 1983, Buffalo-born Gordon Bunshaft was a design architect in the New York offices of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), one of the largest architectural firms in the world. In the 1950s and 1960s he became the go-to architect of corporate America. The SOM projects displayed here not only earned Bunshaft international recognition, but also a Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1988.

 

01
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Lever House, 1952

Lever House in NYC, amodern glass skyscraper by Gordon Bunshaft
Lever House in New York City. Photo (c) Jackie Craven

"With business replacing the Medicis as patrons of the arts in the 1950's," writes architecture Professor Paul Heyer, "S.O.M. did much to show that good architecture could be good business....The Lever House in New York, in 1952, was the firm's first tour de force."

About Lever House

Location: 390 Park Avenue, Midtown Manhattan, New York City
Completed: 1952
Architectural Height: 307 feet (93.57 meters)
Floors: 21 story tower attached to a 2 story structure incorporating an open, public courtyard
Construction Materials: structural steel; green glass curtain wall facade (one of the first)
Style: International
Design Idea: Unlike the W. R. Grace Building, the Lever House tower could be built without setbacks. Because most of the site is occupied by the lower office structure and open plaza and sculpture garden, the design complied with NYC zoning regulations, and sunlight filled the glass facades. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson are often credited with designing the first glass skyscraper without setbacks, although their nearby Seagram Building was not completed until 1958.

In 1980, SOM won the AIA's Twenty-Five Year Award for the Lever House. In 2001, SOM successfully restored and replaced the glass curtain wall with more modern construction materials.

02
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Manufacturers Trust Company, 1954

510 Fifth Avenue in NYC, Manufacturers Trust Company c. 1955 by architect Gordon Bunshaft
510 Fifth Avenue in NYC, Manufacturers Trust Company, c. 1955. Photo by Ivan Dmitri/Michael Ochs Archives Collection/Getty Images

This modest, modern building forever changed bank architecture.

About Manufacturers Hanover Trust

Location: 510 Fifth Avenue, Midtown Manhattan, New York City
Completed: 1954
Architect: Gordon Bunshaft for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)
Architectural Height: 55 feet (16.88 meters)
Floors: 5
Design Idea: SOM could have built a skyscraper on this space. Instead, a low-rise was built. Why? Bunshaft's design "was based on the belief that a less conventional solution would result in a prestige building."

SOM Explains the Construction

" A framework of eight concrete-covered steel columns and beams were used to support reinforced concrete decks that cantilevered on two sides. The curtain wall consisted of aluminum-faced steel sections and glass. The unobstructed view of the vault door and banking rooms from Fifth Avenue indicated a new trend in bank design."

In 2012, SOM architects revisited the old bank building with the goal of transforming it into something else — adaptive reuse. Restoring and preservation Bunshaft's original structure, 510 Fifth Avenue is now retail space.

03
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Chase Manhattan Bank Tower and Plaza, 1961

Top of Gordon Bunshaft designed Chase Manhattan Bank Tower
Chase Manhattan Bank Tower. Photo by Barry Winike/Photolibrary Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

The Chase Manhattan Bank Tower and Plaza, also known as One Chase Manhattan, is in the Financial District, Lower Manhattan, New York City.

Completed: 1961
Architect: Gordon Bunshaft for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)
Architectural Height: 813 feet (247.81 meters) over two city blocks
Floors: 60
Construction Materials: structural steel; aluminum and glass facade
Style: International, first in Lower Manhattan
Design Idea: Unobstructed interior office space was achieved with a central structural core (containing elevators) supplemented with exterior structural columns.

04
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Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, 1963

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. Photo by Enzo Figueres/Moment Mobile Collection/Getty Images

Yale University is a sea of Collegiate Gothic and Neoclassical architecture. The rare books library sits in a concrete plaza, like an island of modernity.

About Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library:

Location: Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
Completed: 1963
Architect: Gordon Bunshaft for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)
Construction Materials: Vermont marble, granite, bronze, glass
Construction Photos: 500+ photographs from 1960-1963

How do you protect the Gutenberg Bible, which is on permanent display at this library? Bunshaft used ancient natural construction materials, precisely cut, and placed within a modern design.

" The structural facade of the hall consists of Vierendeel trusses that transfer their loads to four massive corner columns. The trusses are composed of prefabricated, tapered steel crosses covered with gray granite on the outside and pre-cast granite aggregate concrete on the inside. Fitted into the bays between the crosses are panels of white, translucent marble that admit subdued daylight into the library while blocking the heat and harsh rays of the sun." — SOM
" The white, gray-veined marble panes of the exterior are one and one-quarter inches thick and are framed by shaped light gray Vermont Woodbury granite." — Yale University Library

When visiting New Haven, even if the library is closed, a security guard  may allow you inside for a breathtaking moment, experiencing natural light through natural stone. Not to be missed.

Images from Beinecke Digital Studio

05
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Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, 1971

Detail of the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas
Detail of the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas. Photo by Charlotte Hindle/Lonely Planet Images Collection/Getty Images

When Gordon Bunshaft was chosen to design the presidential library for Lyndon Baines Johnson, he considered his own home on Long Island — Travertine House. The architect, well-known at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), had a fondness for the sedimentary rock called travertine and took it all the way to Texas.

Learn more About the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas >>>

06
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W. R. Grace Building, 1973

Curved skyscraper, the W.R. Grace Building designed by Gordon Bunshaft, NYC
W.R. Grace Building designed by Gordon Bunshaft, New York City. Photo by Busà Photography/Moment Open Collection/Getty Images

In a city of skyscrapers, how can natural light make its way to the ground, where the people are? Zoning Regulations in New York City have a long history, and architects have come up with a variety of solutions to comply with zoning regulations. Older skyscrapers, like the 1931 One Wall Street, used Art Deco Ziggurats. For the Grace Building, Bunshaft used modern technologies for a modern design — think of the United Nations Headquarters, and then bend it a little bit.

About the W. R. Grace Building:

Location: 1114 Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Avenue near Bryant Park), Midtown Manhattan, NYC
Completed: 1971 (renovated in 2002)
Architect: Gordon Bunshaft for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)
Architectural Height: 630 feet (192.03 meters)
Floors: 50
Construction Materials: white travertine facade
Style: International

 

07
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Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 1974

Detail of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC
Detail of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC. Photo by The Colombian Way Ltda/Moment Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

A Washington, DC visitor would have no sense of the interior open spaces if the 1974 Hirshhorn Museum were viewed only from the outside. Architect Gordon Bunshaft, for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), designed cylindrical interior galleries rivaled only by Frank Lloyd Wright's 1959 Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

08
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Hajj Terminal, 1981

Tensile architecture, Hajj Terminal designed by Gordon Bunshaft, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Tensile Architecture of the Hajj Terminal designed by Gordon Bunshaft, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Photo by Chris Mellor/Lonely Planet Images Collection/Getty Images

About the Hajj Terminal:

Location: King Abdul Aziz International Airport, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Completed: 1981
Architect: Gordon Bunshaft for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)
Building Height: 150 feet (45.70 meters)
Number of Stories: 3
Construction Materials: cable-stayed Teflon-coated fiberglass fabric roof panels supported by 150-foot-high steel pylons
Style: Tensile Architecture
Design Idea: Bedouin tent

In 2010, SOM won the AIA's Twenty-Five Year Award for the Hajj Terminal.

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