Is 1WTC a Copycat Design?

John Hill
16. June 2017
Image from Case 1:17-cv-04473 Document 1 Filed 06/14/17

A lawsuit filed on Wednesday in Manhattan alleges that Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) copied a tower designed by architect Jeehoon Park as a student at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in 1999.

Park, now now president of Qube Architecture in Suwanee, Georgia, is suing SOM, Tishman Construction Corporation and a trio of LLCs for unspecified damages. The filed document says:

​This is an action for copyright infringement and provision of false copyright management information, false advertising, and unfair competition arising under the statutes of the United States. These claims arise out of Defendants' unauthorized copying, reproduction, and distribution of Mr. Park's copyrighted architectural work, and SOM's provsion of false and misleading statements regarding its architectural services, as well as false copyright management information.

Image from Case 1:17-cv-04473 Document 1 Filed 06/14/17

Furthermore, the suit specifies:

In the late 1990s, Mr. Park was a graduate student in architecture school [Illinois Institute of Technology], where in 1999 he completed two years of work on his thesis for the design of a 122-story building, titled "A Multi-Use High-Rise Concrete Building – Chicago's Cityfront Center" ("Cityfront '99") ... During that two-year period from 1997 to 1999, and thereafter through 2005, Defendant SOM had access to Mr. Park's Cityfront '99, including through one of Mr. Park's thesis advisors [Ahmad Abdelrazaq] who was an Associate Partner with SOM, through SOM's head of structural engineering who met with Mr. Park and saw the design of Cityfront '99, and through the public display of Mr. Park's model for Cityfront '99 both outside the high-rise studio in the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology ... and in the lobby of SOM's building.

Jeehon Park's Cityfront '99 project is included in an IIT publication, Studio Works 98/99, from 2000, which indicates that David Sharpe served as Park's advisor. A book published by IIT ten years later about architects Myron Goldsmith and David Sharpe is quoted in the suit, in which the author points out the similarity of Park's 1999 design to "the closely related SOM design for One World Trade Center, under construction in New York." But with SOM's design for One World Trade Center unveiled in 2005, and a book in 2010 pointing out the similarities between the two designs, why is the lawsuit being filed now?

Image of Mr. Park's thesis project from "Studio Works 98/99," published by IIT in 2000

The lawsuit's curious timing is raised by SOM, which supplied a statement to Fast Company:

​One World Trade Center is arguably the highest profile project built in the world in recent memory, and these types of projects often attract people who deceptively claim ownership of the design. This lawsuit filed yesterday is particularly suspect, because he is filing suit in June of 2017 about a design that was first unveiled publicly in June 2005 and that was completed and leased in 2013.

The form of One World Trade Center is a simple and iconic geometric form and SOM has shown, countless times now, the origins of its concept and the development of its design. This lawsuit feels like an attempt to get attention or money and we are certain this claim will be found to be baseless.

The lawsuit's visual evidence includes side-by-side comparisons of Park's model and the completed One WTC, and floor plans of the same. With such a simple geometric form, it's hard not to see the similarities, though it's even harder to see Park winning the suit, given that just about all architects lose in copyright infringement lawsuits. Nevertheless, we'll update this story as the suit progresses and any news develops.

Image from Case 1:17-cv-04473 Document 1 Filed 06/14/17

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