Press Releases November 19, 2020

Perkins&Will Launches Digital History “Museum” to Commemorate 85th Anniversary

A year-long exhibition showcases a curated selection of seminal 20th century projects designed by the firm

NEW YORKAn online “museum” honoring Perkins&Will’s 85th anniversary offers design enthusiasts the opportunity to explore some of the most pivotal projects in the firm’s history. The digital museum, which launched its first exhibition in January, offers visitors a multi-media experience that includes a timeline, archival photographs, artifacts, mementos, and audio clips with designers. From rapid pen-and-ink sketches to impressive feats of analogue drafting, the collection demonstrates the craftsmanship and artistic skill of Perkins&Will architects since 1935. It also serves as an opportunity for visitors to see how the firm has learned from—and built upon—its past.

“Every day, we are reminded of the importance of our commitment to make the world a better, more beautiful place,” says Ralph Johnson, global design director of Perkins&Will. “The exhibitions featured in our digital museum showcase projects that, through the years, have upheld this promise to our clients and communities.”

Here’s an overview of the museum’s content:

Crow Island school children painting outside
The Crow Island School in Winnetka, Illinois
An elementary school that, even in 1940, emphasized environmental health and well-being

Design: Then and Now

For decades, Perkins&Will has worked to improve lives through people-first placemaking. These values are evident in projects such as the Crow Island School—an elementary school that, even in 1940, emphasized key concepts of environmental health and well-being, like access to light and air. Visitors to the Prologue exhibition will be able to see archival imagery, original blueprints, and printed matter, and learn more about the context that makes an architectural project successful and enduring.

Another exhibition shares hand sketches by Perkins&Will principal Bill Brubaker, which date to the 1960s. Some of the images depict ambitious design concepts for O’Hare International Airport in Chicago—including an option to float the airport on Lake Michigan. Nearly three decades later, when Johnson and his team designed O’Hare’s Terminal 5 in 1993, it was Brubaker’s imaginative drawings that served as a source of creative inspiration to Johnson, despite the decades between the two designers.

“Our designs have always demonstrated the values integral to our firm,” says Johnson. “These archives reflect how we’ve grown and adapted over the years with continued innovation.”

Growth Through Innovation

The firm’s design for the International Minerals & Chemicals Corporation (IMC) headquarters in Skokie, Illinois in the 1950s kicked off a reputation and fervor for research and innovation. The project’s glass and steel exterior represented the newest trends in modern architecture at the time, focusing on ideas of form-follows-function. The design also underscores employee well-being through amenities, such as a two-level patio to enjoy in summer months and an employee lounge. Even decades ago, Perkins&Will understood the importance of a healthy social workplace.

A more recent example of a historic project that embodies principles of well-being is Perry High School in Perry, Ohio, completed in the early 1990s. The Perry Education Village exhibition explores the ways in which the design team, led by Johnson, incorporated sustainable concepts long before these ideas were mainstream. Like Crow Island, the project carefully considered daylighting and access to nature to enhance well-being among students and staff. Visitors to the exhibition can explore large-scale colored sketches by Johnson, as well as the original plans and sections for the school’s bold façade.

“We have always been champions of high-performing, healthy spaces that positively impact our clients and communities,” says Casey Jones, design leadership council director. “This archive demonstrates that these values have always been at the core of our firm and we continue to build on this legacy today.”

Perry High School in Perry, Ohio
A color-pencil and watercolor drawing by architect Ralph Johnson
The National Center for Agricultural Education, Research, and Extension in Chapingo, Mexico
Completed in 1967, the campus used experimental concrete forms and facades to create a new standard for education.

Commitment to Diversity

The Prologue exhibition includes an interactive historic timeline, audio clips, and videos, as well as sneak peeks into archival booklets and articles. It also showcases a project in China from 1917—designed by co-founder Larry Perkin’s father Dwight Perkins.

Another exhibition highlights the National Center for Agricultural Education, Research, and Extension in Chapingo, Mexico. Completed in 1967, the campus used experimental concrete forms and facades to create a new standard for education. The project marked the beginning of a decades-long relationship between Perkins&Will and much of Latin America, and in January 2020, the firm opened a studio in Monterrey, Mexico.

“We’re committed, as a whole, to fostering diversity at each step of the design process so that we can offer the best creative solutions for clients around the world,” says Gabrielle Bullock, director of global diversity at Perkins&Will. “It’s essential for our designs and designers to cultivate a strong sense of curiosity—and, as history shows, we’ve been doing that for 85 years.”


At least one more exhibition—its content not yet revealed—will close out the end of the year. To explore the featured archives in the Perkins&Will digital museum, visit