Adrian Smith

Design Partner at Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture


For the past 45 years, Adrian D. Smith’s contribution to the theory and practice of architecture has taken the form of an exploration of global culture, technology, and sustainability. From a one-room bank building in Guatemala to the tallest structure in the world in the United Arab Emirates, Adrian’s designs have combined American ingenuity and innovation with an extraordinary sensitivity to the historical, cultural, and climatic contexts of the diverse places for which they’re created, fostering a unique dialogue between architecture, culture, and place.

Throughout his career, Adrian has honored the cultures he serves by respecting, reflecting, and reinterpreting them in his designs, which have been lauded for their elegance and the subtlety of their cultural references. This approach is consistent in all phases of his career and in all typologies, from small interior spaces and large-scale urban design, to low- and mid-rise buildings and supertall towers—including Jeddah Tower, to be the world’s tallest building when completed in Saudi Arabia in 2020, and Wuhan Greenland Center, to be the world’s fourth-tallest building when completed in Wuhan, China, in 2019. The result is a diverse body of work that spans five continents and eight national capitals, its highlights are landmark buildings and focal points of intense civic pride. From Boston and Chicago to Shanghai and Dubai, local populations regard Adrian’s buildings as their own, as reflections of their character and symbols of their highest aspirations.

At once the heir of Chicago’s muscular architectural traditions and a committed internationalist, Adrian and his high-performance designs have been celebrated by juries of his peers across the globe. His buildings and urban designs have earned more than 225 awards worldwide, including 10 national AIA Honor Awards in all three categories: Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Urban Design. He won the 2011 Lynn S. Beedle Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) for his contributions to the supertall typology. As noted by CTBUH trustee Peter Irwin, “Adrian’s body of work includes some of the world’s tallest and most recognized buildings, yet his designs transcend mere height and have become landmarks because of their graceful design and inherent sensitivity to local context and culture.”

In 2013, Adrian received an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Texas A&M University and in 2016 he was a Legacies and Leaders recipient from his alma mater University of Illinois at Chicago, College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts, for his continued support of top graduating seniors with the Adrian D. Smith Award. In 2017, the National AIA nominated Adrian to be the US candidate for the International Union of Architects (UIA) Gold Medal Award.

Over the decades, Adrian’s contextual priorities have shifted from primarily cultural referencing to the use of technology’s contextual absorption and harvesting a sites’ natural source of power. In this way, Adrian’s contextualism has developed three layers: the cultural, the technological, and the environmental.

As the designer of four of the world’s top 20 tallest completed buildings—Burj Khalifa (2010), the current world’s tallest building; Zifeng Tower in Nanjing (2010); Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago (2009); and Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai (1999)—Adrian has made major contributions to the advancement of the mixed-use supertall tower typology, focusing on the towers’ contextual response. His work was the first to recognize the relationship between a tall tower’s exterior form and the resultant wind resistance’s effects on the tower’s movement and the comfort of its occupants. This has led to a methodology in the design of high-performance, supertall towers that mitigates the acceleration of movement caused by wind vortices, “confusing” the wind by shaping the buildings’ form. This method, verified by wind-tunnel testing in the early stages of design, is now widely emulated and influential within the profession. Adrian was also the first architect to integrate wind turbines and photovoltaic panels into supertall tower designs such as Samsung Togok Tower (1994), 7 South Dearborn (1997) and Pearl River Tower (Guangzhou, China, 2009).

Since early in his career, Adrian’s design philosophy has consistently advanced the cause of sustainability. Long before that term was in common use, Adrian was designing energy-efficient, low-carbon buildings. In response to frequent power outages in Guatemala, Adrian designed three Banco de Occidente branches (National AIA Award, 1980) to operate without electricity, using courtyards and louvered skylights for daylighting and natural ventilation. In the desert climate of Bahrain, Adrian gave United Gulf Bank (National AIA Award, 1988) a wrapper wall with deeply recessed windows that employ heat-absorbing glass fins and parabolic shaped light-reflecting shelves. At the same time, these designs were replete with a host of cultural references rendered in contemporary, technological form—as was Adrian’s design for 10 Ludgate Place (1993) in London, which received the 1994 UK Civic Trust Award for its highly contextual response and innovative exterior wall technology.

Later, Adrian introduced the first large-scale commercial passive double-wall structure in the United States (601 Congress Street in Boston, 2006) and the first planned net-zero-energy supertall tower (Pearl River Tower, 2009). Most recently, Adrian’s design for the head offices of the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI Tower Seoul, Korea, 2014) features a pioneering exterior wall system that incorporates self-shading, inward-sloping vision glass panels that alternate with upward-sloping BIPV panels to produce a significant amount of energy for the building on-site. FKI Tower is the most sustainable building in Korea, winning the prestigious Korea Green Building Award in 2014 from the Korea Presidential Commission on Architecture Policy.

Adrian has established himself as a leader in the profession through his 26-year partnership at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM); as a founder of his own firm, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture (AS+GG) in 2006; through extensive lecturing and exhibitions around the world; and as the author or coauthor of three books, including Toward Zero Carbon: The Chicago Central Area DeCarbonization Plan (Images Publishing Group, 2011). With Toward Zero Carbon, Adrian became the first architect to research and document a comprehensive strategy for carbon reduction on a citywide scale.

Adrian has lectured on sustainability and supertall tower design and technology in more than 20 cities in 15 countries. He was one of 40 international leaders in the Berlin Zentrum, Germany’s initiative in the 1990s to develop urban planning concepts for the reunification of East and West Berlin. His work has been exhibited in more than 50 venues, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian Institution, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Skyscraper Museum, the National Building Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Sao Paulo Biennale, the Biennale de Arquitectura de Buenos Aires, The Venice Biennale, and the Centre de Creation Industrielle in Paris.

Adrian has served as both jury member and jury chairman for the National AIA Institute Honors and Honor Awards and was a member of the advisory jury for the AIA Firm Award and the AIA Gold Medal. He has been the U.S. representative to the British Architectural Library Trust, British Schools and Universities Foundation, and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). He is a civic and educational leader in Chicago, having served as president of the Chicago Central Area Committee and on the Board of Governors of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for the last 15 years; he is also on the Advisory Board of the School of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology. Adrian places an emphasis on mentorship and on the education of architects through his practice, his funding of scholarships, and his teaching at various universities and studio critic programs. He is a major supporter of the ACE Mentor program in Chicago, which provides scholarships and internships in the Architecture, Construction, and Engineering fields for high school students, including those from underprivileged backgrounds. He was also honored with the City of Hope Spirit of Life Award for his activities on behalf of cancer research and most recently, in 2018, by the Marshall Bennett Institute of Real Estate at Roosevelt University with the Lifetime Industry Leadership Award for his contributions to real estate.

For these and other efforts, Adrian has received the Outstanding Alumni Award from both of his alma maters: Texas A&M College of Architecture and the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was also the first architect to be honored with a Doctorate of Letters Degree from Texas A&M University. In 2018, Adrian Smith, with his co-partner Gordon Gill, received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Marshall Bennett Institute of Real Estate at Roosevelt University in Chicago.