SOM stole kid’s WTC design?

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The kid, Jeehoon Park, was a student of architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1999 when he designed for his senior thesis a building that looks like 1 World Trade Center, opened in 2014. It overtook Chicago’s Willis Tower as the tallest building in the U.S. It is 104 stories. Park’s tower was 122 stories. Park sued 1 WTC’s designer, the Chicago-based megafirm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), in 2017. A judge has ruled that the suit brought by the kid, born in Korea and now, I suppose, in his mid-40s, can proceed.

“Go, kid!” says the iconoclast in me. Knock the SOM scalawags off their pedestal.

On the other hand, the 1 WTC design is a simple matter of twisting a tall, rectangular shaft with a square base and a square roof a quarter-way round. A commenter on an original story of the lawsuit in Archinect wrote:

Does this guy really think that he is the first person to think of this? I myself have sketched that form a million times, and I’m sure most designers have at some point. It’s almost inevitable that at some point you will rotate a square above a square base and connect the corners. That’s like the first cool thing you figure out how to do in SU.

So it would be like Cheops suing I.M. Pei for copying the Great Pyramid at Giza. Or the first guy who ever designed a house suing the second guy who ever designed a house for copying the first guy’s roof, or his door. However, as intellectual property lawyer Phil Nicolosai told the Chicago Tribune about the federal Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act:

The law doesn’t say you can’t be inspired to create something similar. What the law says is you can’t copy plans directly. That’s copyright infringement.

Park charges that his design was swiped by his thesis adviser, who was an architect at SOM, and that another SOM architect was involved, and that his model of the design sat in an Illinois Institute lobby for six years, and sat in the lobby of SOM itself while it was filmed for several scenes of the movie The Lake House (2006), starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. It seems to be a stupid movie. Neither the Wikipedia nor the IMDb plot summaries of the movie mention anything about Park’s building design or model, which he called Cityfront ’99. Maybe it is in the background somewhere. But Reeves does play an architect who has built a glass house on a lake.

Oddly enough, however, the movie critic for USA Today wrote: “The Lake House is one of the more befuddling movies of recent years. The premise makes no sense, no matter how you turn it around in your head.”

That sounds a lot like what Park (or SOM) did to design 1 WTC. And in a lot of ways, almost all modern architecture is like one of those ridiculous movies that were popular, or at least frequently produced, in the 1970s. Their plot twists, flashbacks and time warps make it almost impossible to follow what’s going on, and more than anything else they resemble the sort of thinking that goes into contemporary architectural design – especially in recent decades, what with Gehry’s Bilbao, SOM’s 1 WTC, the absurd Career and Technical Academy, in Providence, R.I., and the like.

Park now runs a firm with four employees called Qube Architecture (weird corporate spellings are another virtually mandatory curiosity of modern architecture) in Suwanee, Ga, near Atlanta. It designs and constructs single-family houses, not 122-story glass towers, on or off lakes. Qube doesn’t have a website so it’s hard to tell what sorts of houses the firm designs.

There is a condo tower of 15 stories at 1333 West Georgia St. in Vancouver, B.C., called The Qube, built in 1969, long before Jee Park got his architecture degree. Perhaps The Qube has a case of copyright theft against the kid for purloining the name of the building in Vancouver for his firm in Georgia. Nah. Spelling cube qube doesn’t quite cut the infringement mustard.

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The Cube, at 1333 West Georgia St., in Vancouver, British Columbia. (

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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6 Responses to SOM stole kid’s WTC design?

  1. Patrick Calhoun Hickox says:

    A student at the Yale Graduate School of Architecture sued SOM long
    ago for the same complaint regarding his Studio project and the WTC.
    He lost.
    I stole this:
    Steve Jobs “stole” from Picasso when he said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal”. Picasso “stole” from T.S. Eliot who phrased it as, “Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal”. Eliot “stole” that from Oscar Wilde who gave us the line, “Talent borrows, genius steals”.


    • I suppose, Patrick, that there is a Wildean sensibility to the reason why, in all of these quotes on art, it is considered better to steal than to borrow!


      • Patrick Calhoun Hickox says:

        That accords with your preference for Traditional architecture. As you continue to exercise attention, your eyes will open increasingly to the subtle incorporation of inherited verities of function, structure, and beauty, in many forms of Architecture, including the Avant Garde…


        • I think, Patrick, that the modernist manipulation of language and truth in support of architecture that undermines human decency and traditional ideas of beauty is unlikely to get much of a foothold in my aesthetic worldview.


          • Anonymous says:

            as Paul Goldberger penned about Tom Wolfe, you have “a good ear for Architecture”.
            Architecture and Art History are full of empty bombast. It is best to use one’s eyes.


  2. LazyReader says:

    And they stole it from P. L. Robertson, inventor of the Flathead screwdriver.


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