As a corporate entity, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill is not easy to understand. Founded by brothers-in-law Louis Skidmore (1897–1962) and Nathaniel A. Owings (1903–84), the firm grew quickly, opening its first office in Chicago in 1936, a second in New York in 1937, and a third in San Francisco in 1947. Offices were opened thereafter in Portland, Oregon (1951; closed in 1990), Washington, D.C. (1967), Boston (1971; closed in 1985), Los Angeles (1974), Houston (1976; closed in 1988), Denver (1977; closed in 1987), and London (1986). Today SOM is also represented in China, India, and the Middle East. Although the Chicago office is conventionally considered the firm's home base, each location has its own designers and production specialists and keeps its own records. SOM is big: over the span of eighty years its tens of thousands of employees have built between twelve thousand and fifteen thousand buildings—no one knows...

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