6 jan 17  | Crain's Chicago Business

Architect Adrian Smith's view from on high

by Laura Bianchi

Adrian Smith, 72, is founder of Chicago's Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture and before that spent over 25 years at Chicago's Skidmore Owings & Merrill, where he was the design partner responsible for the world's tallest building: 2,717-foot-tall Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. While at SOM, he also headed projects like Chicago's Trump International Hotel & Tower, Millennium Park and Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai. By 2020 he'll have bragging rights to three of the world's four tallest buildings. He lives in Lake Forest.

What's on the drawing board?

Kingdom Tower (now Jeddah Tower) in Saudi Arabia, which will top off at 3,281 feet (just over 1 kilometer) and drop Burj Khalifa into second. And Wuhan Greenland Center in China, which will rank fourth at 2,087 feet.

What spawned this passion for altitude?

My childhood home in San Clemente, Calif., was on the highest point in town—we had fabulous views out to the Pacific. It was like living in a 50-story building, and I'm sure that influenced my thinking that living in a high-rise would be very cool.

What was your childhood like?

I worked at my parents' store from the age of 5, sweeping floors, stocking shelves and, later, selling clothes. I suspect that had an impact on my ability to sell ideas to people.

What keeps you up at night?

Sometimes when we're working with another country, we take a project through design development and then hand it off, and we don't know if they're changing the specs to save money or not. Problems can happen that way.

How tall is too tall?

We know we can go to 1 mile (5,280 feet) with a structure by connecting three or four buildings, but it would be only for ego, not functionality. You would need to transfer elevators several times to get to the top, and it would be hard to sell a 6 to 8 million-square-foot building.

What do you do for fun?

I've gone back to painting during the last three years. My goal is to show them someday.

Why art?

Unlike architecture, where there is always a client, functional requirements and a discipline of science, there are no limits and no boundaries in art. The canvas is like God's playground.

What do you splurge on?

I have a Ferrari 430 Spider, a Lamborghini Gallardo 264, a Bentley Mulsanne Speed, and my wife and I each have a Mercedes. It's not the speed, it's the aesthetics.


Well, I have had traffic tickets occasionally.

Unusual hobbies?

I'm a beekeeper. My wife and I have a house on a hill overlooking 3,000 acres of open land outside Mundelein. The bees are happy campers.

What's the attraction?

It started as a tax break because I was able to rezone my property as a farm. This year I harvested 20 gallons of honey.

That's a lot of tea sweetener, eh?

Actually, I give a lot of it away. I'm diabetic.