Thomas Shine ARC ’00 filed suit Monday against the designers of Freedom Tower, the skyscraper planned for the World Trade Center site, alleging renowned architect David Childs ’63 ARC ’67 copied designs Shine made as a student at the School of Architecture.
Shine claims that plans for the tower by Childs and his firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill are “strikingly similar” to “Shine ’99” and “Olympic Tower,” two skyscraper models Shine created as a Yale graduate student, according to the suit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York.
The suit contends that Childs first saw Shine’s Olympic Tower studio model — which Shine designed as a Manhattan skyscraper for New York’s 2012 Olympic bid — in December 1999 when Childs served on a panel of jurists invited by the School of Architecture to evaluate students’ architectural plans. At the panel, Childs commented favorably on Shine’s design, according to the 1999-2000 issue of Retrospecta, the school’s annual magazine.
“It is a very beautiful shape,” Childs said, according to the magazine. “You took the skin and developed it around the form — great!”
In an interview Tuesday, Shine said Childs spoke with him individually about the Olympic Tower design after his presentation and asked him to visit him upon graduation from Yale. Shine said he was “stunned and surprised” when he saw Childs’ design for the Freedom Tower in a newspaper in December 2003.
“When I first saw it, I was thinking that it looked a lot like my building,” Shine said.
But Elizabeth Kubanye, the spokeswoman for Childs’ firm, said in an e-mail Tuesday that the lawsuit is “specious.” Kubanye said though Shine’s Olympic Tower and Childs’ Freedom Tower share common design elements, most of their features have been industry standards for decades.
“This is a high-profile project and a number of people have made claims that they were the inventor of specific elements of Freedom Tower’s design,” she said. “However, the [Skidmore, Owings & Merrill] team, with structural engineer Guy Nordenson, has combined these elements in a unique way that reflects the special nature of the building’s site and its importance.”
Shine’s attorney, Andrew Baum, said the two designs are similar in many respects. He said both skyscraper designs are similar in their twisting towers, symmetrical exterior diagonal column grids, and patterns of “elongated diamonds.”
Yale architecture professor Alexander Garvin, who also serves as a commissioner on the New York City Planning Commission and planning and development director for New York’s 2012 Olympic bid, said he served with Childs on the faculty panel that reviewed Shine’s work. Although he did not recall what any of the panelists said about Shines’ Olympic Tower design during the presentation, Garvin said he remembers the design having been “really handsome.”
“There is a similarity there — a visible similarity,” said Garvin, who resigned in 2003 as planning director of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which is responsible for building Freedom Tower. “I have no way of telling whether it was intentional.”
While Shine is demanding monetary compensation and a judgment that Childs and his firm violated his copyrights, he is not asking Childs to change the design of Freedom Tower or to stop the skyscraper’s construction, Baum said.
“We just want fair recognition for Mr. Shine’s contribution and fair compensation for the work he created,” Baum said.
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