Get Your Shinebox, We’ll Get Our Intellectualism

A few months ago, a completely unknown Boston-based architect filed suit against monolithic SOM architect David Childs, author of the current Freedom Tower (and of the earlier version, in “collaboration” with Danny Libeskind), claiming that Childs had taken the design for the torqued and twisted tower from Shine’s senior project, which, to be fair, looked remarkably similar. Initial rumblings of Shine’s complete in(s)anity abounded, but it turns out his point was much larger than a David and Goliath battle. Shine, it seems, was hoping to speak for all the Davids of all the architecture students who, terrified, show their work in reviews only to all so often have it show up as built work by, surprise, one of their jurors. Versions of the story have happened to us, and our friends, and our friends’ friends, and general consensus among everyone seems to be that it’s perfectly legitimate for practicing architects to assign their own projects as studios. And watch. And steal.

So that was his soapbox (and, evidently, ours). And people thought it couldn’t possibly happen. How could a kid from Brookline take on the PR engine and, frankly, brute architectural force of SOM? Turns out, today, he could. And did. He went there.

It’s a little complicated though. The Times explains:

Comparing Olympic Tower and Freedom Tower, Judge Mukasey said any lay observer would notice that each tapered and twisted; each had an undulating, textured, diamond-patterned facade; and each had a diamond pattern at the base. That combination, he said, gave them a “similar ‘total concept and feel’ that is immediately apparent even to an untrained judicial eye.”

So here’s the problem. To the “untrained judicial eye” these two twisting tapered towers look the same. We’re finding a bit of a Wittgensteinian slippery slope though. If two twisted towers must necessarily be in some way at least conceptually related, why aren’t people jumping on Malmo? Or, if copying the general shape of something constitutes outright theft, where is the place for homage or adoption? Why are we so quick to (rightly) use architects as adjectives–Miesian, Corb-ish, Gaudi-esque–and then instantly about-face when it seems argumentatively plausible?

Still, we admire Shine’s principles. Having seen the way that so many architects take advantage of their students’ work (the students taking advantage of their professors is a whole different can of speculation), we’re glad that someone is taking the system to task.

On the other hand, it’s hard to fight the Man when the Man is all you’ve got.