MAS Context Fall Talks 2017
Celebrating 20 years of the Guggenheim Bilbao


3D drawings for the Guggenheim Museum. © SOM.


On Wednesday, November 1, MAS Context and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. This event was a unique opportunity to learn first hand about the making of one of the most important buildings of the end of the twentieth century. The event is part of MAS Context’s 2017 Fall Talks series and it took place at the offices of SOM in Chicago (224 South Michigan Avenue, Suite 500, Chicago, IL 60604).


20 Years of the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum


Designed by Frank O. Gehry & Associates, the Guggenheim Museum was a feat of design and construction. The use of digital modeling, including the now famous CATIA, and other innovations opened the door to a new generation of architecture that defined in the beginnings of the twenty-first century. The Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) served as the structural engineer for the building with Bilbao-based IDOM as the local engineer. It was a unique collaboration that proved to be a major success.

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of its opening, John Zils, Associate Partner Emeritus at SOM, discussed the work of SOM in the project while Bill Baker, Structural and Civil Engineering Partner at SOM, discussed the Guggenheim Museum in relationship to the engineering work that has been developed in the office in the last two decades.

Iker Gil, editor in chief of MAS Context, kicked off the event by providing an overview of the transformation of the city of Bilbao, from the challenges it was facing to the situation 20 years after the opening of the museum.



Bilbao issue of MAS Context. © Cover illustration by Meneo.


The transformation of Bilbao was documented in the issue 30-31 of MAS Context. Among the contributions, the issue features an interview with John Zils. You can read the issue here:

The exhibition SOM: Engineering x [Art + Architecture], currently on display in Chicago and presented with Mana Contemporary Chicago in partnership with the Chicago Architecture Biennial, reveals the concepts and forms that stem from SOM’s integrated practice of engineering, art, and architecture. For more information, please visit:



SOM: Engineering x [Art + Architecture] © Courtesy of SOM


MAS Context is supported by a grant by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and by private donations. For information about how to support MAS Context, please visit:




John Zils is an Associate Partner Emeritus at Skidmore Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) Since joining SOM in 1966, John has served as structural engineer on numerous projects ranging widely in scope and scale, including the 110-story Sears Tower in Chicago, the King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. John is the recipient of multiple awards including those from the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Institute of Steel Construction, and the Structural Engineers Association of Illinois. | @som_design

William F. Baker is a structural and civil engineering partner at SOM where he has led the structural engineering practice for over 20 years. Since joining the firm in 1981, he has dedicated himself to extending the profession of structural engineering through design, research, teaching, and professional activities.Baker is best known for the development of the “buttressed core” structural system for the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest manmade structure. While widely regarded for his work on supertall buildings, Bill’s expertise also extends to long-span roof structures and specialty structures such as the Broadgate Exchange House in London and the Entrance Pavilion for General Motors’ Headquarters in Detroit. Baker has also collaborated with numerous artists, including James Carpenter (Raspberry Island – Schubert Club Band Shell), Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle (Gravity is a Force to be Reckoned With), James Turrell (Roden Crater), and Jaume Plensa (World Voices).

Iker Gil is an architect, urban designer, and director of MAS Studio. In addition, he is the editor in chief of MAS Context. He is the editor of the book Shanghai Transforming (ACTAR, 2008) and has curated several exhibitions, most recently “BOLD: Alternative Scenarios for Chicago” as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. He is the recipient of the 2010 Emerging Visions Award from the Chicago Architectural Club and has been recognized as one of “Fifty Under Fifty: Innovators of the 21st Century” by a jury composed by Stanley Tigerman, Jeanne Gang, Qingyun Ma, and Marion Weiss. | @MASContext



Abandoibarra (before and after). © Courtesy of Ibon Areso.



Abandoibarra. © Carlos Garmendia.



Guggenheim Museum. © Iker Gil.

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