Tag Archives: Wings & Merrill

SOM Fashions Former Chicago Firehouse Into Bespoke Men’s Hat Atelier

FIRM Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
SQ. FT. 7,700 SQF

Chicago is renowned for myriad phenomena. Jazz and the blues. Politics. Pizza. And, of course, architecture. But hats? Yes, according to Graham Thompson, founder of Optimo, a men’s hat company based in the city’s South Side. Steady growth over its 25-year existence has called for expansion—and a new space. It comes courtesy of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the 82-year-old firm with significant ties to the city.

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Thompson has been a hat devotee since he was 16, when he’d saved up for two years to purchase his first one from legendary Chicago hatmaker Johnny Tyus. He eventually apprenticed with Tyus for seven years, and then, upon graduating college and Tyus’s retirement, Thompson bought his equipment and opened Optimo. Last year, when it came time to move someplace larger, he found the ideal venue in a 1914 firehouse about a mile from his original location.

Custom steel armatures power and illuminate the machines in the workroom. The same metal forms the custom rolling racks along the window wall. Photography by Tom Rossiter.

Though derelict for years, the 7,700-square-foot, two-story building was “built like a brick tank,” Thompson recalls. Interiors, though, were another story. “It looked like a bomb went off.” To re-envision it as a bona fide factory and showroom, Thompson’s dream was to enlist SOM. The firm values craftsmanship, authenticity, and timeless luxury just as he does, but rarely takes on projects of such scope.

Fortunately, retired SOM managing partner Richard Tomlinson is an Optimo collector and helped facilitate a meeting between Thompson and the firm. Although a small endeavor, design partner Brian Lee saw an opportunity. “It’s a great story for the city,” the architect says, “helping to continue a rich history of craftsmanship in South Chicago. Plus, the building was in better shape than others we’d seen before.”

Optimo felt hats line shelves formed from aircraft cable. Photography by AJ Trela.

Thompson had already gotten the renovation ball rolling by commissioning a pair of gleaming brass-clad entry doors. Then SOM took charge. Masonry was re-pointed and cleaned, especially on the interior, with its grimy diesel residue. Other walls were re-plastered. Upstairs, which is dedicated mostly to the showroom, new stained oak flooring was installed. On the double-height ground floor, the existing concrete floor was sealed and polished. That’s the workroom where each hat, ranging from $395 for straw to $1,000 for felt, gets handmade by Thompson and his seven-person team. Expressed as a contemporary workshop with an industrial aesthetic, its design draws from a palette of understated materials and colors.

To plan the space, Lee first researched the making of men’s hats, which involves blocking, surface- and brim-edge finishing, trimming, flanging, shaping, and steaming—a process that takes from two to six weeks to complete. “It helped us determine the organization of the machinery with the right power and lighting and how much space each machine would require,” he explains. “We ended up falling in love with them,” referring to such pieces as the French steam table that dates to the early 1900’s. (SOM painted all the machines, old and new, a dark gray for uniformity.)

Laminated glass covers the aperture left by the firehouse pole, so the workroom is visible from the upstairs showroom. Photography by Tom Rossiter.

That research resulted in what Lee calls “goal-post lighting,” brawny blackened-steel armatures with integral LEDs and power capability that frame the trio of workbenches arrayed down the center of the workroom floor. Along one side of the space, rolling hat-storage racks lined up between the window bays are framed in the same metal. Toward the back is the walnut and cork hatter’s wall, a nearly floor-to-ceiling construction that houses hundreds of hat forms plus the doors to the sewing and surface-finishing rooms behind it.

The second floor emits an airier, more refined aesthetic compared to the industrial vibe downstairs. But it didn’t start out that way. It had similar proportions to the workroom—“almost too overscale for the gracious feeling we were going for,” Lee notes. So, he and his team tempered the scale by installing a kitchen and an office for Thompson, and then creating a steel pendant fixture 10 feet in diameter to center the remaining showroom space. The fixture is like “an extended wing,” he adds, anchored by cables from a central escutcheon. Below it, a lengthy table crafted from two solid planks of walnut hosts design discussions between Thompson and his clients. He can narrate the history of the hat-making craft with the rare vintage tools and artifacts displayed in the tall steel-framed shelving unit nearby and throughout the atelier—he has traveled to over 15 countries in search of them.

Stained oak flooring flows through the lounge, furnished with Mermelada Estudio sofas. Photography by Tom Rossiter.

Off the showroom, a portal of walnut repurposed from Thompson’s original hatter’s bench leads to the lounge, the firehouse’s former captain’s room. But what’s a firehouse without a pole? Yes, this venue once had one, but it was stolen. So, Lee and his team decided to fit the aperture with a round of transparent laminated glass. Now, with light from the showroom’s windows streaming deep into the workroom below, craftsmanship is clearly on display.

> Project Resources

Project Team: Jaime Velez; Jeremy Bouck; Daniel Bell; Dennis Milam; Rebecca Delaney; Michelle Mirrielees; Dickson Whitney III: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Bureau of Architecture and Design: Design Consultant. Carpenter Corey: Woodwork. Bader Art Metal & Fabrication: Metalwork. Hugo Sanchez: Plasterwork. Cotter Consulting: Project Management. Helios Construction Services: General Contractor.

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Benny Chan Receives Julius Shulman Institute Excellence in Photography Award

Edmunds.com headquarters in Los Angeles by M+M Creative Studio. Photography by Benny Chan/Fotoworks.

Mention the phrase architectural photographer, and a few names come immediately to mind. Julius Shulman, arguably the best of our time and a special Interior Design Hall of Fame inductee, is undoubtedly the first. Benny Chan tops the list, too. So, it’s only fitting that he will receive the 2018 Julius Shulman Institute Excellence in Photography Award in conjunction with Los Angeles’s Woodbury University.

Full disclosure: Chan is a profound personal and professional friend of all of us at Interior Design. With his artistry and grace, he helps our pages and covers look great month after month. He’s a joy to work with whether shooting on the West Coast near his home base of Los Angeles, on the East Coast near our New York City headquarters, or further afield in Europe or Asia. The close coterie of designers and architects with which he works feels the same way. In short, everyone loves Benny.

CBRE’s Glendale office by Gensler. Photography by Benny Chan/Fotoworks.

He shoots not only architecture and interiors but fine art photography, filtered through his unique take on seemingly mundane subjects. L.A. traffic? Runways at LAX? Their images become works of art through Chan’s eyes and technical ingenuity. He has shot these series dangling from a helicopter harness shouldering an immense camera of his own making. How about forlorn laundromats at night? Or hospital x-rays rendered stunning black and white abstracts via his vision. Further abroad, he has shot the impeccable Vitra factory, helping us understand why its products, too, veer on works of art. His latest endeavor, a series on Los Angeles architecture under construction, is the subject of his exhibition at the Woodbury University Hollywood (WUHO) Gallery, opening May 12.

Hong Kong-born, Chan earned a bachelor of architecture degree from the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) where he received the Henry Adams Student Award and the 1992 Paris Prize. He then traveled through Europe focusing on his dual passions of architecture and photography. Returning to Los Angeles, he worked for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Neil M. Denari Architects. Opting for full-time photography, he established Fotoworks in 1993.

WithMe’s Los Angeles outpost by Giorgio Borruso Design, a 2017 Best of Year winner for Small Retail. Photography by Benny Chan/Fotoworks.
Drago Ristorante in Los Angeles by Felderman Keatinge & Associates. Photography by Benny Chan/Fotoworks.
Gores Group’s Los Angeles headquarters by Belzberg Architects and Joan Behnke & Associates. Photography by Benny Chan/Fotoworks.

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Magda Biernat photographed a Skidmore, Owings & Merrill building at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. SOM tends to build long-term relationships with photographers “because there is a learning curve with every new photographer,” says SOM photo coordinator Lucas Blair Simpson.


Learn How These Design Experts Are Impacting Millions

Amale Andraos and Dan Wood
Jeremy Liebman


WORKac—Kew Gardens Hills Library As part of New York’s Design and Construction Excellence program—an initiative to improve public architecture—Amale Andraos and Dan Wood (above) recently completed a sculptural update and extension to this Queens public library, attracting some 2,000 visitors to its opening this past September. Topped by a sloping green roof and clad with a rippling GRFC façade, a faceted envelope now frames the library’s original footprint, creating light-filled reading rooms for adults, children, and teens. “Libraries are places where everyone feels at home,” says Wood, noting that the building has become a beloved gathering spot for the neighborhood’s diverse population—including immigrants and youth who can now make use of the branch’s English-language courses, tax-preparation seminars, and after-school programming. “It’s not a given that a city would show this interest in design,” says Andraos. Adds Wood, “What they found is that it doesn’t cost much more to build something good.”

AD100 architect Ingels

Gregory Harris / Trunk Archive


BIG–Bjarke Ingels Group—dryline Charged with protecting ten miles of Manhattan’s waterfront in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, AD100 architect Ingels (right) has envisioned a ribbon of community and cultural spaces that would both engage the public and withstand future floods. Nicknamed the Dryline, his forthcoming park—winner of the local Rebuild by Design competition—will combine a raised landscape of protective berms and resilient plants with re­creational features such as skate parks, undulating double benches, and winding bicycle paths. In the event of rising waters, art walls deploy as shutters, serving as an emergency barrier. Rain or shine, the Dryline promises to do the city proud.

Thomas Woltz

Jeremy Liebman


Nelson Byrd Woltz—Naval Cemetery LandscapeThanks to Thomas Woltz (above), what was once a cemetery on the outskirts of the Brooklyn Navy Yard now serves as a verdant park along the Brooklyn waterfront’s network of bike paths. “Because this was sacred land, one of the stipulations was to not disturb the ground—no heroics of earthmoving,” says Woltz, who was enlisted by the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative and collaborated with Marvel Architects. “Restrictions lead to innovation.” Studying the ecological and cultural histories of the site, he tailored his scheme to achieve maximum fecundity. Added cherry trees nod to a long-gone orchard; an elevated timber walkway echoes the sinuous creek that once rippled through wetlands; and grasses and pollinator plants draw bees, birds, and bats from the neighborhood, this lush meadow changing season to season. “What we commemorate is the human condition, these cycles of life and death,” says Woltz. “People have really responded to this tiny, low-budget park. It slows down your heart rate. It calms you.”

Sir David Adjaye
Jason Schmidt


Adjaye Associates—Sugar Hill project As one of the most sought-after architects of his generation, AD100 honoree Sir David Adjaye (below) has designed homes for the likes of art stars and celebrities. But in the case of this 2015 complex, he created shelter for some of New York’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens. Distinguished by sculptural setbacks, daring cantilevers, and concrete façade panels embossed with floral patterns, Sugar Hill comprises 124 subsidized apartments, with irregular windows that frame sweeping city views. “My primary consideration has been dignity,” Adjaye says of public housing. “Too often, generic design has created isolating and dehumanizing environments.” In a further departure, the project features a range of public programming, with a children’s museum and an early-childhood center. “The hope is that it can provide a model for a more integrated approach,” explains Adjaye.

Cornell Tech Campus
Iwan Baan


Cornell Tech Campus Architecture by Handel Architects, Morphosis, and Weiss/Manfredi. Master Plan by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Landscape Design byJames Corner Field Operations. At the graduate school’s new eco-friendly campus on Roosevelt Island, unveiled this past September, buildings not only support one another, they bolster the city at large. More than 2,000 photovoltaic panels crown the Morphosis-designed academic center (above) and Weiss/Manfredi–designed innovation hub, with power generated from both channeled toward the center, helping the building reach its ambitious net-zero goal. A residential tower by Handel Architects, meanwhile, boasts ultralow energy consumption. The goal for the campus is to help reestablish New York as a center of the tech industry, melding entrepreneurship and academia on this green (in every sense) stretch of city.

New York City AIDS Memorial
John Moore


New York City AIDS Memorial Architecture byStudio Ai Architects Only a couple of years ago, there was no permanent tribute to AIDS victims, care­givers, and activists in New York, a city that has lost more than 100,000 people to the disease and which birthed the activist movement. This memorial filled that void. Completed in December 2016, the striking steel canopy welcomes visitors to St. Vincent’s Triangle, opposite what was the hospital with Manhattan’s first AIDS ward. An installation of pavers by artist Jenny Holzer, meanwhile, reveals the engraved words of Walt Whitman’s beloved poem “Song of Myself.” All offer a vivid reminder not just of the toll taken by the epidemic, but also the work still to be done.

Randy Rubin, Circular Space Photography


Cary Leeds Center for Tennis & LearningArchitecture by Gluck+ Tennis lovers of all backgrounds converge at this socially conscious Bronx complex, comprising 22 courts and a glass-and-steel clubhouse. Terraced into the earth, the center operates as the flagship for New York Junior Tennis & Learning—a nonprofit offering free lessons and tutoring to underserved youth. On any given day, these kids can be found practicing their backhand or perfecting their footwork alongside other members of the local com-munity. In the center’s first year alone, some 7,000 children and 1,000 adults used the facility, with 6,000 hours of court time provided to youth in need. Now that’s what we call a strong serve.

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The Most Expensive Buildings in the U.S.

Ask the average American which city contains nearly half of America’s most expensive buildings and what would they say? New York, perhaps? Or maybe Los Angeles? Chicago, for those who know of the Windy City’s rich architectural history? But alas, none of those answers would be correct. According to a new survey by Emporis (a data website that collects information about buildings around the world), Las Vegas houses nine out of the 20 most expensive buildings in the country. While big-name architects and location both play a part in the final cost, oftentimes it’s the infrastructure that makes a million-dollar design turn into a multimillion-dollar project. Below, ADsurveys the 20 most expensive buildings in the United States.


Millennium Tower

Building: Millennium Tower
Location: Boston, MA
Cost: $620 million
Year: 2016
Architect: Handel Architects

The Mirage

Building: The Mirage
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Cost: $650 million
Year: 1989
Architect: Joel Bergman

Palms Place

Building: Palms Place
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Cost: $650 million
Year: 2008
Architect: KGA Architecture


Belfer Research Building

Building: Belfer Research Building
Location: New York, NY
Cost: $650 million
Year: 2014
Architects: Todd Schliemann, Ennead Architects

Rush Hospital, East Tower

Building: The Rush Hospital, East Tower
Location: Chicago, IL
Cost: $654 million
Year: 2012
Architect: Perkins & Will

7 World Trade Center

Building: 7 World Trade Center
Location: New York, NY
Cost: $700 million
Year: 2006
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill



Building: Elara
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Cost: $750 million
Year: 2009
Architect: Gerald Koi

Devon Energy Center

Building: Devon Energy Center
Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Cost: $750 million
Year: 2012
Architect: Jon Pickard

Paris Las Vegas

Building: Paris Las Vegas
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Cost: $785 million
Year: 1999
Architect: Joel Bergman


The New York Times Building

Building: The New York Times Building
Location: New York, NY
Cost: $850,000,000
Year: 2007
Architect: Renzo Piano

Trump International Hotel & Tower

Building: Trump International Hotel & Tower (center)
Location: Chicago, IL
Cost: $850 million
Year: 2009
Architect: Adrian Smith, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill

Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa

Building: Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Cost: $925 million
Year: 2006
Architect: Friedmutter Group


MGM Grand Resort & Casino

Building: MGM Grand Resort & Casino
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Cost: $1 billion
Year: 1993
Architect: Veldon Simpson

SunTrust Financial Centre

Building: SunTrust Financial Centre
Location: Tampa, FL
Cost: $1 billion
Year: 1992
Architect: Cooper Carry

Bank of America Tower

Building: Bank of America Tower
Location: New York, NY
Cost: $1 billion
Year: 2009
Architects: COOKFOX Architects and Adamson Associates Architects


Wilshire Grand Center

Building: Wilshire Grand Center
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Cost: $1.2 billion
Year: 2017
Architect: AC Martin Partners

The Palazzo

Building: The Palazzo
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Cost: $1.9 billion
Year: 2007
Architect: HKS

Goldman Sachs Headquarters

Building: Goldman Sachs Headquarters
Location: New York, NY
Cost: $2.1 billion
Year: 2010
Architects: Pei Cobb Freed & Partners and Adamson Associates Architects


Wynn Las Vegas

Building: Wynn Las Vegas
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Cost: $2.7 billion
Year: 2005
Architect: Marnell Corrao Associates

One World Trade Center

Building: One World Trade Center
Location: New York, NY
Cost: $3.8 billion
Year: 2014
Architects: David Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

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