Belonging as a Corporate Ideal: Nathaniel A. Owings of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill writes The Spaces in Between (1973)

Nicholas Adams


A study of the autobiography of the American architect Nathaniel A. Owings (1903–1984), founder of the architectural firm Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM). In The Spaces in Between: An Architect’s Journey (Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1973) Owings recounts his life from his youth in Indianapolis, Indiana to the foundation of the firm that bears his name in 1936, to the development and expansion of that firm and its role in the construction of large and important post-war buildings (Lever House, New York, 1952; John Hancock Center, Chicago, 1967) and many others. Using a manuscript copy of the text in the Library of Congress, Washington, the article shows Owings’ tortuous experience writing the book. Letters exchanged with the editor, Ruth Hapgood and others are analyzed. A comparison between manuscript and printed version of the book reveals significant differences that probably result from the intervention of SOM’s lawyer, Gross Sampsell. The story Owings wanted to tell was racier and would have been more interesting to readers; the book he published was a compromise, designed to avoid law suits and maintain good relations with colleagues at SOM. Keeping his relation with his colleagues was, in the end, more important to Owings than a spicy narrative.


Nathaniel A. Owings; Louis Skidmore; Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM); Gordon Bunshaft; architect’s autobiography; corporate life and culture; american corporation; Library of Congress

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DOI: 10.6092/issn.2611-0075/6724


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