SOM Foundation Launches Robert L. Wesley Award

John Hill
29. September 2020
Robert L. Wesley, Chicago, 1996 (Photo © SOM)

Named for the first Black partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the new award will support BIPOC undergraduate students enrolled in architecture and related programs in the United States.

The SOM Foundation has been awarding research and travel grants since 1981, two years after the foundation was created under the initiative of Bruce Graham, the design partner known for the famous John Hancock Center and Sears Tower (now 875 North Michigan Avenue and Willis Tower, respectively), both in Chicago. The new award brings the number of current awards administered by the foundation to five: SOM Foundation Research Prize, Structural Engineering Fellowship, UK Award, China Fellowship, and Robert L. Wesley Award. According to executive director Iker Gil, the SOM Foundation has awarded $2.5 million since 1981.

The Robert L. Wesley Award will provide three $10,000 unrestricted awards to BIPOC undergraduate students enrolled in four- or five-year architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, or structural engineering programs in the US. It honors Wesley, who joined SOM's Chicago office in 1964 and was named a partner in 1984 making him the firm's first Black partner. Before retiring in September 2001, Wesley worked as lead project administrator and liaison with clients, managing and coordinating the execution of several complex projects, including the Lakefront Millennium Project, the State Street Renovation, the Art Institute of Chicago, and other projects in and beyond Chicago.

Wesley is quoted on the SOM Foundation website:

"The naming of this BIPOC academic award is truly an honor, which I must express my sincerest gratitude and appreciation to the SOM Foundation. It is my belief that one of the greatest gifts a young person can receive from any authority, organization, or institution, is an education. And this award exemplifies exactly that. Education is one of those indelible rights that keeps our society strong, productive, and empathetic. When used properly, all of society benefits."

The deadline for the inaugural Robert L. Wesley Award is November 9, 2020. Visit our Agenda listing for more details on the award.

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