Gordon Bunshaft and SOM

Building Corporate Modernism

Nicholas Adams

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A nuanced portrait of the 20th-century architect whose work defined the built aesthetic of corporate America

Gordon Bunshaft’s (1909–1990) landmark 1952 design for Lever House reshaped the Manhattan skyline and elevated the reputation of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the firm where he would spend more than 40 years as a partner. Although this enigmatic architect left behind few records, his legacy endures in the corporate headquarters, museums, and libraries that were built in his distinctive modernist style. Bunshaft’s career was marked by shifts in material. Glass and steel structures of the 1950s, such as New York’s Chase Manhattan Bank, gave way to revolutionary designs in concrete, such as the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University and the doughnut-shaped Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC. Bunshaft’s collaborations with artists, including Isamu Noguchi, Jean Dubuffet, and Henry Moore, were of paramount importance throughout his career.
Nicholas Adams explores the contested line between Bunshaft’s ambition for acclaim as a singular artistic genius and the collaborative structure of SOM’s architectural partnership. Bunshaft received the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1988 and remains the only SOM partner to have achieved this distinction. Adams counters Bunshaft’s maxim that “the building speaks for itself” with necessary critical context about this modernist moment at a time when the future of Bunshaft’s iconic works is very much in question.

Nicholas Adams is professor emeritus of architectural history at Vassar College.

“Adams offers a genuinely new portrait of Gordon Bunshaft and fresh observations about American corporate architecture and practice at midcentury.”—Mary McLeod, Columbia University

“Bunshaft might not have had much to say about his own projects but thankfully Adams does, and he provides excellent readings of individual projects in chapters that parse out the stylistic phases of the former’s work.”—Anthony Paletta, Metropolis

“Architectural historian Nicholas Adams’s exhaustively researched and psychologically probing new monograph on Bunshaft seeks to reposition him as a central creative figure after decades of critical neglect and will likely improve his much-diminished posthumous standing.”—Martin Filler, New York Review of Books

“Adams marshals a treasure trove of archival materials . . . to disentan­gle myths and misconceptions about Bunshaft that have clouded our understanding of both his role at SOM and his place in 20th-century American culture.”—Jeffrey Lieber, Architectural Histories
ISBN: 9780300227475
Publication Date: November 19, 2019
296 pages, 9 x 11 1/2
45 color + 159 b/w illus.