Thursday, February 19, 2015

USG Building/Franklin Center, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger
 [USG Building/Franklin Center, Chicago (1992) Adrian Smith, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Have you ever heard the phrase "post modernism" or "po mo?" The architectural    movement that cropped-up in the late 70s and was going like gangbusters by the early 90s? The turn-your-back on the Miesian box fad? Well, the tower designed by architect Adrian Smith of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) fits nicely into the "po mo" category.
  [USG Building/Franklin Center, Chicago, 125 W. Franklin Street, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Built in 1992, the USG Building was the smaller twin of AT&T Center, which had been constructed three years earlier. Smith was the lead design partner in the Chicago offices of SOM, often referred to as the IBM of the profession, who was leading the stodgy company into the 21st century. Gone were the skyscrapers that made SOM famous, like Chicago's Sears Tower and John Hancock Center, replaced by buildings whose decorative elements harkened back to another era. Post-modernism hit the mark with the general public who found the modernism of the mid-century "building box" boring and ugly. Soon "po mo" itself would become a derisive joke for many within the harsh critical world of architecture and design, but the USG building was heralded as an elegant reflection of a more humane and elegant period in architecture with its Art Deco inspired detailing.
  [USG Building/Franklin Center, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Adrian Smith became the star of SOM, which had principal offices in Chicago, New York and San Francisco. In 2006, Smith left the firm under not so great circumstances. He was 62 years old and the company had a long standing mandatory retirement age policy that when you turned 65 you were shown the door. But there had been bad blood brewing within the company, and younger partners were waiting with bated breath to see the old man retire. The partners, apparently lead by the New York office, voted to give Smith the title of consultant, considered a demotion and slap in the face. When his protege, and longtime SOM employee Gordon Gill was denied a partnership, Smith had enough and left SOM after 39 years with the company. He and Gill started their own firm, and all eyes were on the now competing firms. Whenever Smith & Gill beat out their former design home for a large splashy job, the press was all a twitter with the news of David trumping Goliath.
USG, the world's supplier of wallboard, moved their headquarters from the building in 2007 and the name was changed to Franklin Center. Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill have gone on to design some of the more recognized buildings constructed in the past 5 years, and SOM is as busy as ever, still sitting at the top of the corporate, architectural heap.

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