For over forty years, the SOM Foundation has supported emerging design leaders and research. The Foundation was established in 1979 under the initiative of SOM Design Partner Bruce Graham who served as its first chair. The award program began with the ambition to improve architectural education by enabling recent graduates to expand their knowledge through travel. The generous fellowships provided an important platform for self-driven inquiry and an opportunity for recipients to advance their design thinking outside of an academic institution. Graham and the Board of the SOM Foundation were champions of the cause and fiercely believed in the importance of experiencing architecture in different ways and engaging with a multiplicity of thought.
Since 1981, over 2.8 million dollars have been awarded to support the work of individuals across the globe. The Foundation’s award program has grown over the years to include a wider field of design and engineering, and to recognize the work of recent graduates alongside leading educators and researchers. As we look toward the future, we plan to continue to strengthen that support and focus on research, advancing the design profession’s ability to address key topics of our time through interdisciplinary research and design exploration. We do so through redefining our awards program, expanding our network of fellows and partners, and building on past efforts.
Awards such as the SOM Foundation Research Prize, European Research Prize, Structural Engineering Fellowship, China Fellowship, and Robert L. Wesley Award are the backbone of the Foundation. The awards provide economic and institutional support to design leaders and students to advance their career and share their research with the public. This research is framed around topics identified each year, such as Humanizing High Density, Shrinking Our Agricultural Footprint, Examining Social Justice in Urban Contexts, Envisioning Responsible Relationships with Materiality, and Shaping Our World Through Air.
We plan on celebrating our network of fellows, past and present, and expanding the impact of our community by organizing public conversations related to the topics being explored each year. Events such as the International Research and Design Forum, organized in 2019 in collaboration with IIT College of Architecture, aim to connect education with leading practitioners and researchers.
When talking about plans for the Foundation, Bruce Graham reiterated the necessity for long-term investment. He could often be heard saying “I’m not talking about five years from now. I’m talking about fifty years from now.” In that spirit, as we look back on the first forty years of awards, the Foundation is engaging in a long-term effort to make archival projects publicly available through our website. We hope they will serve as a reflection on how design research has changed as well as a resource that future efforts can build on.
Now more than ever, the SOM Foundation is committed to supporting, promoting, and advancing architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, interior design, and engineering through our different initiatives. We are excited to collaborate with our past and future fellows and we look forward to sharing their remarkable research.