The Foundation’s award programming was established in 1981 and currently offers five annual awards across the United States, Europe, and China. The awards support students and faculty of architecture, landscape architecture, interior architecture, urban design, and engineering to undertake rigorous interdisciplinary research that can help shape our future.
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, and Envisioning Responsible Relationships with Materiality.
Iker Gil is the founder of MAS Studio, the Editor in Chief of the nonprofit MAS Context, and the Executive Director of the SOM Foundation. He has edited or coedited several books including Radical Logic: On the Work of Ensamble Studio and Shanghai Transforming.
He has curated multiple exhibitions including Nocturnal Landscapes, Poured Architecture: Sergio Prego on Miguel Fisac, and BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago, part of the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial. He was cocurator of Exhibit Columbus 2020–2021 and Associate Curator of the US Pavilion for the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. He has taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), and the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT).
Iker has received several grants and awards for his work, including the 2010 Emerging Visions Award from the Chicago Architectural Club, The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation grants, Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts grants, Ruy de Clavijo grant by Casa Asia, and PICE grant by AC/E (Acción Cultural Española).