Honorary Degree Citation
David Childs. The urban topography and cultural geography of America have been shaped by your work and the work of your firm, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, where you are consulting design partner. Your master plan of the Washington Mall transformed the landscape of the nation’s capital and your tall structures, such as the World Wide Plaza and the AOL Time Warner Building, define the skyline of New York, its leading city. Your buildings reflect the intrinsic uniqueness of the places where they are built, counteracting the blandness that too often characterizes this country’s commercial development, and you have guided your firm to increased diversity of design, reflecting America’s changing values. You have proven that a creative product can be a financial success, thus resolving the essential and existential paradox of a human condition that seeks to balance idealism and pragmatism. Your most recent and most important commission, to develop the site of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, is destined to transform practically and symbolically the American tragedy with which our century and our millennium began into a beacon of hope and a monument of rejuvenation. The architect’s brief is always complicated and his audience diverse, but never has that been more true than with the rebuilding of Ground Zero. Developers, politicians, bankers, those who survived and family members of those who did not, are invested in this enterprise. 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.
By the authority of the Board of Trustees of Colby College, I confer upon you, David Childs, the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa. The hood with which you have been invested and this diploma which I place in your hand are visible symbols of your membership in this society of scholars, to all the rights and privileges of which I declare you entitled.
Conferred May 22, 2005
David M. Childs is consulting design partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP/New York, one of the world’s leading architecture, urban design, engineering, and interior architecture firms. A graduate of Yale College and the Yale School of Art and Architecture, he joined SOM in 1971 after serving as design director of the Pennsylvania Avenue Commission, where he prepared plans for the redesign and redevelopment of the nation’s main ceremonial street. He then served as chairman of the National Capital Planning Commission. Childs’s projects have included Worldwide Plaza, Bertelsmann Tower, and the New York Mercantile Exchange, in New York, and the Washington Mall master plan and Constitution Gardens, National Geographic headquarters, in Washington. He currently is working on designs for the Freedom Tower, to be built on the World Trade Center site. He is a member of the boards of the American Academy in Rome, the Museum of Modern Art, the Municipal Art Society, the New York City Partnership, and the National Building Museum. He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. His son Nick is a member of the Class of 1990, and his daughter, Jocelyn, is of the Class of 1992.