David Childs Architecture - The World Trade Center & Beyond

Selected Projects of the SOM Design Architect

Looking up a triangular side of a skyscraper in Lower Manhattan
One World Trade Center, New York City. jayk7/Getty Images

The most famous building designed by David Childs is One World Trade Center, the controversial New York City skyscraper that replaced the Twin Towers destroyed by terrorists. Childs is said to have done the impossible by proposing a design that actually got built in Lower Manhattan. Like the Pritzker Laureate Gordon Bunshaft, architect Childs has had a long and productive career at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) — never needing an architectural firm that included his name, but alway reading, willing, and able to create the right corporate image for his client and his company.

Discussed here are a few of the buildings attributed to the American architect David Childs,  including at the World Trade Center site (1WTC and 7WTC), buildings in Times Square (Bertelsmann Tower and Times Square Tower) and throughout New York City (Bear Stearns, AOL Time Warner Center, One Worldwide Plaza, 35 Hudson Yards), and a couple of surprises — the Robert C. Byrd United States Courthouse in Charleston, West Virginia and the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, Canada.

One World Trade Center, 2014

View Of NYC From Jersey City
One World Trade Center, New York City's Tallest Building. Waring Abbott/Getty Images

Certainly David Childs' most recognizable design has been for the highest building in New York City. At a height of a symbolic 1,776 feet (including the 408-foot spire), 1WTC is clearly the tallest building in the United States. This design was not the original vision, nor was David Childs the initial architect of the project. From start to finish, it took over a decade to design, go through approvals and revise before finally getting built. Construction from ground level on up occurred between April 2006 until its opening in November 2014. "It's taken a decade, but frankly, that's not that long for a project of this scale," Childs told AIArchitect in 2011.

Working for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), David Childs created a corporate design tinged with triangular geometry and breathtaking modern sparkle. The 200-foot concrete base is surfaced with what appears to be prismatic glass, beveled to eight, tall isosceles triangles, topped with a square, glass parapet. The footprint is the same size as the original Twin Tower buildings that stood nearby from 1973 until 2001.

With 71 office space floors and 3 million square feet of office space, the tourist is reminded that essentially this is an office building. But the observation decks on floors 100 to 102 give the public 360° views of the City and ample opportunity to remember September 11, 2001.

"The Freedom Tower, now called 1 World Trade Center, has been more complicated [than Tower 7]. But we continue to be dedicated to the goal that the strength of the building's simple geometry as the vertical marker for that most important element — the Memorial — and the memory it evokes of the form of the missing towers will triumph, honoring those who lost their lives, filling the void torn in the downtown skyline, and verifying the steadfastness and endurance of our great nation." — David Childs, 2012 AIA National Convention

Seven World Trade Center, 2006

Photo of skyscraper with colorful banner pronouncing 7 World Trade Center OPEN.
Opening Day at 7 World Trade Center, 2006. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Opening in May 2006, 7WTC was the first building to be rebuilt after the devastation of 9/11/01. Located at 250 Greenwich Street, bound by Vesey, Washington, and Barclay Streets, Seven World Trade Center sits on a utility substation, which supplies electricity to Manhattan, and, so, priority was given to its rapid rebuilding. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) and architect David Childs made it happen.

Like most of the new buildings in this old city, 7WTC is built with a reinforced concrete and steel superstructure and a glass exterior skin. Its 52 stories rise to 741 feet, leaving 1.7 million square feet of interior space. Childs' client, Silverstein Properties, the managing real estate developer, claims that 7WTC is "the first green commercial office building in New York City." 

In 2012, David Childs told the AIA National Convention that "...a client's role is as important a factor in a project as anything else, even, perhaps, moreso."

"I was fortunate in having Larry Silverstein as the owner of 7 World Trade Center, the third major building to fall and the first to be rebuilt. It would have been expedient for him to have asked that it be a copy of the old avowedly poor design but he concurred with me that that would be an abrogation of the responsibility we had been given. I hope you agree that together we were able to accomplish much more than many thought possible, ourselves included, under the constraints we faced at those first days. In fact, the new building now finished there established the goal of reinstating the original urban fabric that the Port Authority Yamasaki plan erased in the 1960s, and set a standard for art, landscape, and architecture for the work that was to come." — David Childs, 2012 AIA National Convention

Times Square Tower, 2004

Pedestrians and tourists cross Times Square with it's various billboards on July 29, 2015 in New York City.
Looking Toward 7 Times Square. Dominik Bindl/Getty Images

SOM is an international designer and builder, including for the world's tallest building, the 2010 Burj Khalifa in Dubai.  However, as a New York-based SOM architect, David Childs has had his own challenges fitting skyscrapers among existing architecture in a dense, urban landscape.

Tourists in Times Square rarely look too far upward, but if they did they would find the Times Square Tower looming down at them from 1459 Broadway. Also known as 7 Times Square, this 47-floor glass-clad office building was completed in 2004 as part of an urban renewal effort to revitalize the Times Square area and attract healthy businesses.

One of Childs' first buildings in Times Square was the 1990 Bertelsmann Building or One Broadway Place, and now called by its address at 1540 Broadway. The SOM-designed building, which SOM-architect Audrey Matlock also claims, is a 42-story office building that people have characterized as postmodern because of its indigo glass exterior. The additional green glass is similar to what Childs was experimenting with at the Byrd Courthouse in Charlestons, West Virginia.

 

U.S. Courthouse, Charleston, West Virginia, 1998

interior looking out front doors with colorful glass panels above
Robert C. Byrd Federal Building, Charleston, West Virginia. Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images (cropped)

The entrance to the Federal Courthouse in Charleston is traditional, neoclassical public sector architecture. The linear, low-rise; small columns are appropriately dignified for a smaller city. Yet on the other side of that glass facade is the playful postmodern designs of SOM-architect David Childs.

U.S. Senator Robert Byrd was one of the longest serving senators in history, representing West Virginia from 1959 to 2010. Byrd has two courthouses named after him, one built in Beckley in 1999 by Robert A.M. Stern Architects, LLP and another in the capital of Charleston, designed and built by SOM-architect David Childs in 1998.

Childs had a hard architectural act to follow in Charleston, because the West Virginia state capitol building is a glorious 1932 neoclassical design by Cass Gilbert. Childs' original plan for the smaller federal courthouse included a dome to rival Gilbert's, but cost-cutting measures saved the grandeur for the historic Capitol.

U.S. Embassy, Ottawa, Canada, 1999

The United States Embassy building is viewed from the Fairmont Chateau Laurier Hotel on June 30, 2012 in Ottawa, Canada
U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, the captial of Canada. George Rose/Getty Images

Architectural historian Jane C. Loeffler has described the U.S. Embassy in Canada as a "long, narrow building that somewhat resembles a submarine topped by a dome-like tower that somewhat resembles a power plant cooling tower."

It is this center tower that provides natural light and circulation to the interior space. Loeffler tells us that this was a design change — to move massive glass walls to the interior of the building — after the 1995  bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Terrorist threats of federal buildings is why the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa has a concrete blast wall.

The basic idea of Childs' design remains. It has two facades — one facing commercial Ottawa and a more formal side facing Canadian government buildings.

Other New York City Buildings

two rectangular skyscraper towers looking like large digital connectors at the top
The Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle near Central Park. Snap Decision/Getty Images

Architect David Childs designed the Time Warner Center Twin Towers well before 9/11/01. In fact, Childs was presenting his design to the corporation on that very day. Completed in 2004 at Columbus Circle near Central Park, each 53-story tower rises 750 feet.

David Childs' first major New York project after moving from Washington, D.C. was the Worldwide Plaza in 1989. Architecture critic described it as "exceptionally elaborate" and "sumptuous" with "its architecture a play on the classical towers of the 1920's." Nobody doubts that it improved the entire neighborhood around 350 W 50th Street, even with complaints of cheap materials. Goldberger says it "turned one of the harshest blocks of midtown Manhattan into a glittering island of corporate luxury" — Childs' design "strengthens all four streets it faces."

In 2001, Childs finished up a 757-foot, 45-story skyscraper at 383 Madison Avenue for Bear Stearns. The octagonal tower is made of granite and glass, rising from an eight-story-high square base. A 70-foot glass crown is illuminated from within after dark. The Energy Star Labeled Building is an early experiment with highly insulated exterior glass used as well as mechanical sensoring and monitoring systems.

Born April 1, 1941, David Childs is now a consulting design architect for SOM. He is working on the next big development in New York City: Hudson Yards. SOM is designing 35 Hudson Yards.

Sources

  • Architects of Healing Videos, AIA, http://www.aia.org/conferences/architects-of-healing/index.htm [accessed August 15, 2012]
  • "AIArchitect Talks with David Childs, FAIA," John Gendall, ​AIArchitect, 2011, http://www.aia.org/practicing/aiab090856 [accessed August 15, 2012]
  • One World Trade Center, The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, http://www.panynj.gov/wtcprogress/index.html [accessed September 4, 2013]
  • 7 World Trade Center, ©2012 Silverstein Properties, http://www.wtc.com/about/office-tower-7 [accessed August 15, 2012]
  • Property Profile, 1540 Broadway, Managed by CBRE, http://1540bdwy.com/PropertyInformation/PropertyProfile.axis [accessed September 5, 2012]
  • Design Awards Recognize Courthouses At Heart of Cities at http://www.uscourts.gov/News/TheThirdBranch/99-11-01/Design_Awards_Recognize_Courthouses_At_Heart_of_Cities.aspx, November 1999 [accessed September 5, 2012]
  • Robert C. Byrd United States Courthouse, EMPORIS, https://www.emporis.com/buildings/127281/robert-c-byrd-united-states-courthouse-charleston-wv-usa [accessed April 23, 2018]
  • Embassy of the United States, U.S. Department of State. Frequently Asked Questions, http://canada.usembassy.gov/about-us/embassy-information/frequently-asked-questions.html; Design Philosophy, http://canada.usembassy.gov/about-us/embassy-information/frequently-asked-questions/design-philosophy.html; David Childs, http://canada.usembassy.gov/about-us/embassy-information/frequently-asked-questions/embassy-architects.html [accessed September 5, 2012]
  • Jane C. Loeffler. The Architecture of Diplomacy. Princeton Architectural Press Revised Paperback Edition, 2011, pp. 251-252.
  • SOM Project: Time Warner Center, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM),  www.som.com/project/time-warner-center [accessed September 5, 2012]
  • "Architecture View; World Wide Plaza: So Near and Yet So Far" by Paul Goldberger, The New York Times, January 21, 1990, https://www.nytimes.com/1990/01/21/arts/architecture-view-world-wide-plaza-so-near-and-yet-so-far.html [accessed April 23, 2018]
  • SOM Project: 383 Madison Avenue, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM),  http://www.som.com/project/383-madison-avenue-architecture [accessed September 5, 2012]
  • Photo Credit: Entrance to Federal Courthouse in Charleston, Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images (cropped)
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Craven, Jackie. "David Childs Architecture - The World Trade Center & Beyond." ThoughtCo, Apr. 24, 2018, thoughtco.com/david-m-childs-portfolio-of-architecture-178499. Craven, Jackie. (2018, April 24). David Childs Architecture - The World Trade Center & Beyond. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/david-m-childs-portfolio-of-architecture-178499 Craven, Jackie. "David Childs Architecture - The World Trade Center & Beyond." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/david-m-childs-portfolio-of-architecture-178499 (accessed May 23, 2018).