They knew that their reputation was for being mostly interested in design and not in the practical aspects and costs of a “commercial” project. After all, they had been the architects for many innovative corporate headquarter buildings notable for striking imagery and high cost.
“Yes, we’ll hire you again,” I said, “if you’ll work with us to achieve a practical office building that will attract tenants.” I explained that our buildings would have to have a variety of floor layouts, for instance, some for tenants who wanted negotiated rates, which really meant the lowest rates possible.
I emphasized that our funding for the project would have to be put into the practicality of the spaces rather than into the fa£ades that might look good on the cover of their SOM brochure. Of course we also needed a design that would be attractive, but the greater need was for a design that would also allow us to rent the building profitably in a highly competitive market. We had to compete with other office buildings in Chicago’s Loop area for commercial tenants, and couldn’t price ourselves out of the competition by running up overly high construction costs. Would they be able to meet our requirements?
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Construction had begun on the first two Gateway Center buildings when something interesting happened.
Our track record always helped us obtain new projects. But I must add that in my life, opportunities seem to have cropped up as much by chance as by design, and to take me and our firm in new directions that led to still further opportunities and interesting projects. That is precisely what occurred when, during construction of Gateway Center, I received an unexpected call from Bruce Graham. He informed me that SOM was interested in bringing us into an exciting project that his office was designing for another client.
The SOM client was Jerry Wolman, and, as Jerry would be the first to admit, he was a neophyte in the construction of high-rise projects. He was a hearty laugher and liked joking around. He and his family had made money in a hardware store and taxicabs in Baltimore and Philadelphia, and in 1963 he had become the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles football team. Later on, he would be a founding owner of the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League.
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