A Hand to Science, a Tribute to Father

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SominRegrettably, as a society, our minds do not turn to science as often as they should. And when they do, is the attention directed towards the buildings where scientists conduct research? Are those facilities thought of at all? If you are architect Michael Somin, FAIA, scientific facilities are more than a thought— they are the impetus of creation and discovery. After all, he has been involved in the planning and design of over 300 highly acclaimed laboratories (one of which is working home to 2009 Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn—Genetech Hall at UCSF Mission Bay). So those who have worked with him probably were not surprised to learn the news that he was elevated to the AIA College of Fellows this year.

“I forwarded the notification to family and friends throughout the country,” said Somin when asked about how he celebrated the 2013 induction. Apparently, it would be just like him to keep the reception of such a notification simple. When asked how he celebrated the news, he replied that he forwarded it to family and friends, including friend and former co-worker Angela Kimble. “When I worked for Earl Walls Associates from 2003 – 2005, I could not believe Michael had never pursued his F[ellowship]—that’s one indication of ‘egoless,’” she said.

Somin’s body of work is built up and around the pursuit of science, and believes buildings should be as shape-shifting as the field. “The laboratory building is a research took, just as the research that happens within. If science changes direction, the building has to change with it. Adaptability must be built into all laboratory buildings to allow that change to happen,” he was quoted when defining his work.

“For literally decades, one didn’t plan research laboratories in this country without thinking of Mike Somin,” said Jeffrey S. French, FAIA, Principal at Ballinger in Philadelphia.

And speaking to his humility, drive and ethic, the architect works by this philosophy: “We always spend a lot of time with researchers in the beginning of a project,” said Somin. “We never ask, ‘What do you want?’ but rather, ‘What do you do, and how can we help you do it better?’”

As for investiture into the College of Fellows, well, that’s a completely different satisfaction. When asked what being elevated meant to him, Somin wrote this:

“Receiving the Fellowship allowed me to keep a promise to my Dad some 50 years earlier. When I was 16 I told my Dad that I wanted to be an Architect. He showed me evidence that he was also interested in becoming an Architect but the Depression held him back and stopped him from activating a college scholarship he was awarded. He asked me to promise that I would not settle for being a draftsperson. Promise accomplished.”

Discoveries made, hypotheses written, experiments conducted, and yes, promises accomplished.


Shannon Calder

Shannon Calder, a Sacramento-based writer, joined the AIACC in 2013. She is the author of, “Jack and Abigail Make a Compass,” a novel about people, birds, and orchids. She spends her days both on and off hours, looking for connection, which is a good hobby to have when linking the value of design to public perception.

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  1. avatar
    karen cribbins-kuklin

    Thank you Shannon for writing this article. Michael is a humble and deserving man and the consumate architect. Congratulations on this achievement – so well deserved!

  2. avatar
    Michael R Somin

    Thank You Shannon for a sensitive and well written article. Michael

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