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SOM Sued For Plagiarizing Freedom Tower Design

A Georgia architect alleges that SOM stole his graduate thesis idea for One World Trade Center.

SOM Sued For Plagiarizing Freedom Tower Design
[Photo: Lucas Franco/Unsplash]

One World Trade Center, the tallest tower in New York, is the subject of new litigation. Georgia-based architect Jeehoon Park has sued SOM for copyright infringement and false advertising, alleging that the global architecture firm based its design for the glass skyscraper off his 1999 graduate thesis, according to the New York Post.

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Park filed a lawsuit in federal court on Wednesday for unspecified damages. Developer Tishman Construction Corp; Tower 1 Joint Venture LLC; WTC Tower 1 LLC; and Legends OWO, LLC are also named in the suit. Park–who studied at the Illinois Institute of Technology, a prestigious architecture school in Chicago–argues that SOM saw his conceptual design for a glass-and-concrete skyscraper called “Citypoint” on multiple occasions and that both the facade and structure are virtually identical.

Park’s thesis advisor Ahmad Abdelrazaq, who was an associate partner and structural engineer in SOM’s Chicago office, saw it directly; the model was publicly displayed at IIT for six years and was also on view in SOM’s Chicago office building lobby. (One item of note: the suit mentions that the 2006 movie Lake House starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock was filmed in SOM’s lobby between 2014 and 2015 and the model appears in the film.)

Elizabeth Harrison Kubany, spokesperson for SOM, issued the following statement to Co.Design via email about the lawsuit:

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.

This isn’t the first time One World Trade Center has faced plagiarism allegations. The tower was originally designed in 2003 by Daniel Libeskind, who created a master plan for the site. It was later redesigned by SOM architect David Childs. In 2004, architect Thomas Shine sued Childs for copyright infringement, alleging that the shape and diamond pattern on the facade copied his graduate project. (The case was resolved in 2006 when both parties withdrew claims against one another.)

While SOM argues that timing makes the suit suspect, Park is seeking damages not only for copyright infringement but also false advertising since the architects, developers, and property owners have not been crediting his name over the years–a potentially more lucrative avenue than just suing on the grounds of intellectual property alone.

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Daniel A. Kent, one of Park’s attorneys told Co.Design via email: “We believe the claims asserted are timely, and that the wrongful conduct is ongoing. Remember, the building was not completed and opened for business until November of 2014.”

We’ll update the story as it progresses. You can read the suit here:

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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