In Passing: John O. Merrill Jr., FAIA

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The following was sent courtesy of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP

Architect John O. Merrill Jr., FAIA, the son of the founder of SOM died April 25 at his home in Tiburon, California. He was 90 years old. Merrill was the Partner in Charge of many of SOM’s widely regarded projects including the Mauna Kea hotel in Hawaii; the Oakland Stadium and Coliseum; the 52-story Bank of America building in San Francisco; and the Weyerhauser corporate headquarters in Tacoma, WA.

During his 40-year career at SOM, Merrill had a significant impact not only on the firm, but on some of the most celebrated architecture of the 20th century. In the late 1960’s, Merrill, with frequent collaborator and SOM Design Partner Charles Bassett, oversaw the five story stepped back headquarters for Weyerhauser Corporation. Decades before the notion of green roofs and trends in office layouts, this building’s sloped terraces were each planted with lush greenery. Floor to ceiling windows run completely uninterrupted along each level, blurring the boundary between outside and in.

“With John’s leadership, SOM brought an approach to integrated design that hadn’t been seen before on the West Coast,” said SOM Managing Partner Gene Schnair, FAIA. “John’s focus and insistence on design excellence deeply influence our practice.”

Merrill began his career with SOM in San Francisco in 1949. In 1952 he took over the leadership of the firm’s then office in Portland, Oregon and in the following eight years established the basis of the firm’s stellar reputation in the Pacific Northwest. He quickly rose to the level of Associate in the firm (1953) and then Associate Partner (1954). He was elected as a Partner in 1957 and served as a senior Managing Partner of the firm until his retirement in 1989. In addition to his important contribution to the firm’s West Coast practice, he worked internationally in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Australia, Russia and France. Along the way he was elevated to the level of Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, of which he served as President of the San Francisco chapter in 1976.

His influence reached far beyond the firm. In fact, he was instrumental in achieving AIA San Francisco’s Affirmative Action Plan for Women in Architecture. And he was elected Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the San Francisco Art Institute when that 75-year old, 800-student institution was near collapse due to student unrest and financial problems. Merrill instituted student and faculty reforms as well as fund raising efforts that saved this cultural asset.

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The AIACC represents the interests of more than 11,000 architects and allied professionals in California. Founded in 1944, The AIACC's mission supports architects in their endeavors to improve the quality of life for all Californians by creating more livable communities, sustainable designs and quality work environments.

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