A Georgia architect is suing the designers of the One World Trade Center tower in New York City, alleging the firm copied a building design he made years ago as a graduate student in Chicago.
One World Trade Center, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and built on the site of the fallen twin towers, bears a “striking similarity” to the design for a 122-story building architect Jeehoon Park created in the late 1990s, according to the lawsuit. Park did the building design as his thesis at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s College of Architecture.
The lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, alleges Skidmore, Owings & Merrill infringed on Park’s copyrighted design. It also brings a count of false advertising against the firm, which has offices in New York, Chicago and several other cities around the world.
According to photos and diagrams in the lawsuit, the tower and Park’s design have a similar cubic base and a rotated square at the top, giving the sides a stretched, triangular shape.
“When I first saw the photos, my first thought was, ‘Well, that’s the same building,'” said Daniel Kent, an Alpharetta, Ga.-based attorney representing Park. “If you look at the two designs side by side, clearly something’s going on that needs to be remedied.”
One World Trade Center opened in 2014 as one of the tallest buildings in the world. It dethroned Chicago’s Willis Tower as the tallest in the country when it opened.
Such high-profile buildings often attract copyright claims, Elizabeth Harrison Kubany, a spokeswoman for Skidmore, said in a statement.
This suit is particularly suspect given the timing, Kubany said.
“He is filing suit in June of 2017 about a design that was first unveiled publicly in June 2005 and that was completed in 2013,” the statement said. “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.”
Kent said that since the building opened in November 2014 and some of the allegations are ongoing, “we feel like we are well within any statute of limitations that may apply.” Additionally, Kent said Park just recently came to his law firm and did not fully understand his legal rights until then.
It took Park, who is now president of Qube Architecture in Suwanee, Ga., about two years to create his design, according to his lawsuit. After its completion in 1999, a model was displayed in the lobby outside the architecture school’s studio for “at least approximately six years,” the lawsuit says.
The model of Park’s design also appears in the 2006 Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock movie “The Lake House.” One of the scenes featuring his model was filmed in the lobby of Skidmore’s Chicago office, the lawsuit says.
Additionally, the lawsuit claims Park had contact with executives at the firm, including an associate partner who served as one of his thesis advisers, as he designed the building. During these instances, the firm had access to the design, the suit alleges.
Other defendants named in the suit include Tishman Construction, the construction manager for the building; Tower 1 Joint Venture, which developed the building; WTC Tower 1, a subsidiary of Tower 1 Joint Venture that leases space to tenants of the building; and Legends OWO, which operates a gift shop and observation deck.
Items sold in the gift shop also allegedly copy Park’s design, according to the lawsuit, as do leasing materials and tickets to the observation deck.
Representatives from Legends and Tishman declined to comment. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is an owner of Tower 1 Joint Venture, also declined to comment.
This is not the first copyright infringement suit a design for One World Trade Center has faced. A 2004 lawsuit alleged that an architect at Skidmorecopied an early design for the building — then called Freedom Tower — that was later abandoned. That suit was resolved in 2006, according to court documents.
Copyright infringement cases among architects and architectural firms are fairly common, said Phil Nicolosi, a Rockford-based attorney who focuses on business, e-commerce and intellectual property law.
“I see a lot of that on a lower-scale level, where an architect will go after a former employee and say, … ‘You were employed for my firm and you basically stole designs,'” he said.
The federal Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act, enacted in 1990, gives copyright protection to original building designs, including constructed buildings, models or drawings. It’s important to note, however, that the law does not prevent copying an idea, Nicolosi said.
“The law doesn’t say you can’t be inspired to create something similar,” he said. “What the law says is you can’t copy plans directly. That’s copyright infringement.”