Biography of David M. Childs, Design Partner

SOM Design Architect of 1WTC (b. 1941)

suited professional man with glasses eating a green apple while reclining on a rustic stick and twig long wooden bench
Architect David Childs. Nathan Benn/Corbis via Getty Images (cropped)  

Architect David Childs (born April 1, 1941 in Princeton, New Jersey) is best known as the designer of the One World Trade Center we see today in Lower Manhattan. His long relationship with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) has given this senior statesman of American architecture wide-ranging experience and success.

David Magie Childs was priviledged to attend the best private schools in the United states — from the Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Massachusetts to his 1963 Bachelor's degree from Yale University. His career as an architect began after completing a graduate degree from Yale School of Art and Architecture in 1967.

He began his professional career in Washington, D.C. when from 1968 to 1971 he joined the Pennsylvania Avenue Commission. Fresh out of Yale University, Childs formed a strong relationship with both Nathaniel Owings, a founding partner of Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM), and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a future U.S. Senator from New York State.

From 1964 until 1973, Childs' future employer, Nathaniel Owings, was chairman of President Kennedy's Temporary Commission on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. "In the early years of the Kennedy administration, the plan to redesign Pennsylvania Avenue was the most significant redevelopment project in the country," claims the SOM website. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the young Assistant Secretary of Labor in the Kennedy Administration, led the government's plan to revitalize Pennsylvania Avenue and the National Mall. Through this Commission's hard work, negotiations, and consensus, Pennsylvania Avenue is now a designated National Historic Site.

One could argue that Childs' early experiences on the Commission led the young architect to a lifelong proficiency in public architecture, city planning, and the politics behind construction and design — skills needed to accomplish his goals in the complicated days after September 11, 2011.

David Childs has been associated with SOM since 1971, at first working on projects in Washington, D.C. From 1975 until 1981 he was Chairman of the National Capital Planning Commission involved in the 1976 Washington Mall Master Plan and Constitution Gardens. He worked on the 1984 National Geographic Society M Street Building and then the U.S. News and World Report Headquarters, both in Washington, D.C.

By 1984 David Childs had moved to New York City, where he's been working on SOM projects ever since. A portfolio of his projects highlights a number of buildings in New York City — the Worldwide Plaza at 825 8th Avenue (1989); Bertelsmann Tower at Times Square (1990); Times Square Tower at 7 Times Square (2004); Bear Stearns at 383 Madison Avenue (2001); AOL Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle (2004); and, of course, 7 World Trade Center (2006) and 1 World Trade Center (2014). Moynihan Station Redevelopment at the James A. Farley Post Office and 35 Hudson Yards are his latest project for the City of New York.

Outside of The Big Apple, Childs was the design architect for the 1998 Robert C. Byrd United States Courthouse in Charleston, West Virginia and the 1999 U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, Canada.

In May 2012, David Childs was one of fifteen "Architects of Healing" receiving a special AIA Gold Medallion for his redesign of One World Trade Center and Seven World Trade Center in New York City. Childs is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA).

David Childs In His Own Words

"I like big complicated projects where you have to assemble teams, deal with the down-and-dirty contractors, the marketplace and the leasing agents with an imagination level only as high as what made money last time." — 2003, The New York Times

"Each of us architects has had mentors and teachers whose work and words have guided us as well. For me they include Nat Owings, Pat Moynihan, Vincent Scully. It is thus been a very collective effort in the fullest sense, and I believe every American can equally take pride in what is and has been accomplished." — 2012 AIA National Convention

"You know what a Richard Meier building will look like; there's a style. I'm more like Eero Saarinen, whom I revere. His buildings all look different." — 2003, The New York Times

"The U.S. invented skyscrapers, but we've fallen behind. WTC 1 is a solution to many technical problems, and it represents the very best in codes, structure, and safety. It's a concrete core with steel exterior, which is an efficient and safe system, but it had not been done in New York for a host of reasons, mostly because of the arrangement between trade groups. The form tapers on its four corners, which buildings — like trees — want to do anyway." — 2011 AIArchitect

What Others Say

"Throughout his years of practice in Washington, Mr. Childs became noted for his design of 'appropriate' architecture, buildings and spaces that respond to their settings and programs rather than pursue a preconceived architectural image." — U.S. Department of State

"Your work demonstrates that architecture is the art of compromise and collaboration, that it is a social act, never created by one person working alone and always creating community. As a creative artist successfully negotiating within a world governed by corporate objectives you have shown that aesthetic vision and functional considerations can coexist, that architecture is the art of both the real and the visionary. You compose steel and glass the way a poet constructs phrases and in so doing create physical entities that reflect personal aspirations and a collective self-image. Your buildings grace our environment and enrich our lives." — Colby Collge


  • Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site, National Park Service, [accessed September 2, 2012]
  • Nathaniel A. Owings, FAIA, Architect and Founding Partner, 1903-1984, Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM), [accessed September 2, 2012]
  • "The New Ground Zero: The Invisible Architect," Julie V. Iovine, The New York Times, August 31, 2003 [accessed August 15, 2012]
  • Architects of Healing Videos, American Institute of Architects, 2012 [accessed August 15, 2012]
  • "AIArchitect Talks with David Childs, FAIA," John Gendall, AIArchitect, 2011 [accessed August 15, 2012]
  • U.S. State Department, [accessed September 5, 2012]
  • Citation for David M. Childs, Colby College, May 22, 2005, [accessed August 15, 2012]