Jul 31, 2017

Former Graduate Student Sues Designers of Freedom Tower

Park v. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, 17-cv-04473 (S.D.N.Y.)
by Daniel Shen

On June 14 of this year, a former graduate student of the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology (CAIIT) filed a complaint against architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) for alleged copyright infringement in the firm’s One World Trade Center design. Mr. Jeehoon Park, now an architect in Georgia, alleges that while he was a graduate student at CAIIT, members of SOM had access to his thesis for the design of a 122-story building that bears similarities to the One World Trade Center.

SOM designed the One World Trade Center to be built where the World Trade Center towers were destroyed during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The 104-story building’s construction began in 2005 and was completed in 2014.

Mr. Park claims that his thesis advisor, who at the time was a partner at SOM, had access to his building design. The advisor had provided Mr. Park with advice about the design’s structure.

Furthermore, a model of Mr. Park’s design was allegedly on display in CAIIT’s architectural school for six years, starting from 1999 when he completed his Master of Architecture there. In the complaint, Mr. Park claims that architects and engineers of SOM “frequently visited” the CAIIT building while the model was “displayed prominently in the lobby.” Mr. Park claims that at least one partner spoke at a symposium at the school while the model was on display and had also met with Mr. Park on another occasion about Mr. Park’s thesis design. The complaint also alleges that, at one point in time, a model of the design was on display in SOM’s Chicago office’s lobby.

The complaint states that SOM has “profited from the publicity and recognition it has received from the credit it falsely claimed and received for the One WTC design, and continues to do so… [and] the acclaim from past experience in designing and constructing super super-tall buildings is a significant factor in obtaining future projects.” Mr. Park is seeking damages as well as an order for “Defendant SOM to correct its false and misleading statements regarding the origin and authorship of the design for One WTC, including by placing corrective information on its websites crediting Mr. Park with the design from which One WTC originated.”