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Old November 12th, 2007, 08:20 AM   #1
hkskyline
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Architects' Mistakes

Talk about sick buildings: Frank Gehry is the latest architect to catch a cold
11 November 2007
The Observer

Arrogant architects are tolerant of technical failure. Indeed, some regard water intrusion, buckling, settlement and shear cracks as badges of honour. The great Frank Lloyd Wright insisted that if a building did not leak, the design was not pushing the envelope. So it is no surprise to learn last week that the great Frank Gehry's Stata Centre at Massachusetts Institute of Technology is leaking too. So much so that he is next meeting the client in court.

The history of architecture is punctuated by building calamities, some comic, others tragic, mostly just uncomfortable. That famous tower in Pisa leans because Bonanno Pisano's structure was too ambitious for the unstable Tuscan soil. Cathedrals often fell down in the Middle Ages because masons were ignorant of the law of translational equilibrium. They usually blamed it on earthquakes, not incompetence. Ely and Lincoln had such problems, but East Anglia is not a seismically lively area.

The modern period is especially rich in problem architecture, as building technology struggles to keep pace with advanced litigation processes. YRM's Warwick University became infamous when its beautiful white ceramic tile cladding started dropping off on to startled students. James Stirling's landmark History Faculty in Cambridge suffered from violent solar gain. It was only made worse when they cleaned the windows.

In Boston, IM Pei pushed the envelope with the superb Hancock Tower, at 790 feet the tallest building then to be clad with mirror-finish, double-glazed glass panels. The result? A third of them fell off in the first storm of 1973 and they filled the gaps with rescue plywood. Then there was the Millennium Bridge. Norman Foster's design did not anticipate the destructive rhythmic excitations of happy tourists, so it wobbled. The engineers fixed it. And when Paul Andreu's new terminal at Charles de Gaulle airport collapsed in 2004 with fatal results, the architect was said to be ignorant of the cause. Alas, the perpetrators of the World Trade Centre atrocity were tragically assisted by architect Minoru Yamasaki's insistence on ingenious lightweight construction.

But Gehry will be bullish when he has his day in court. Recently, a disgruntled New Yorker had arthouse T-shirts printed with the legend '**** Frank Gehry'. Gehry was delighted and bought a whole consignment. His interpretation of the message was not that it was a sartorial expression of the ultimate labio-fricative insult, rather an invitation to enjoy a romantic dalliance with greatness. Meanwhile, the lights are going out in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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Old November 12th, 2007, 06:13 PM   #2
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So, what's the proportion of buildings that fail in some way? How can they stop it from happening without jeopardising innovation?
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Old November 12th, 2007, 07:35 PM   #3
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Client Responsibility

I think some of the blame should be shared by the clients who commission buildings like the Stata Center.
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Old November 13th, 2007, 08:57 AM   #4
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In Boston, a Frank Gehry design draws scrutiny

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Nov 12 (Reuters) - Its walls buckle and bulge and its windows pop out from twisting corners with the whimsical air of a cartoon.

But the three-year-old, $300 million building at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology just outside of Boston is drawing more scrutiny and provoking more emotion than usual since a lawsuit announced last week by MIT against its celebrated architect Frank Gehry.

"It looks like a sculpture," enthused Gianna Milano, a visiting scholar from Italy, standing in front of the Stata Center, a Gehry design which the elite school says is beset by "design and construction failures."

MIT's accusations of persistent leaks, drainage problems and mold are nothing new to Ulas Ziyan, a 28-year-old graduate student who has worked in the building since it opened to critical acclaim in 2004.

"It seems like every summer they do testing and and try to prevent the leaks and every winter it leaks again," he said. "When it leaks they put these big buckets out and move things around so it doesn't drip onto the computers."

In an e-mail to Reuters, the 78-year-old Gehry defended his work, for which he was paid $15 million.

"I am immensely proud of our firm's work on the Stata Center," he said. "I fully stand behind the center's design and have no reason to believe that it contributed in any way to the problems, which are relatively minor and easily addressed."

Gehry won architecture's highest honor, the Pritzker Prize, in 1989, and his best-known work, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, made him one of the world's most sought-after architects. His current projects span the world, including the large-scale redevelopment of downtown Los Angeles.

"Tension between architects and the client is a very usual thing," said Jay Chatterjee, a professor of architecture and dean emeritus at the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning where he oversaw development of several radically designed university buildings.

"It sounds very routine to me."

MOLD, LEAKS AND FALLING ICE

The 400,000-square-foot Ray and Maria Stata Center's twisted, arched and jagged surfaces stand out amid the nondescript labs and classrooms that prevail at MIT, which was once a major World War Two military research hub and has produced 64 Nobel Prize winners.

The negligence suit says masonry in an outdoor amphitheater cracked, snow and ice slid off roofs and protruding windows to block emergency exits and damage parts of the building, while mold grew and leaks persisted.

MIT paid more than $1.5 million to hire another firm to rebuild the amphitheater, according to the suit, which accused both Gehry Partners and construction company Skanska USA Building Inc of violating their contracts with MIT.

Jan Saragoni, a spokeswoman for Skanska USA, said the company hoped the case would be resolved quickly.

MIT declined to comment. "Our lawsuit speaks for itself," a spokeswoman said.

Suits involving radical architecture are relatively common, architects and lawyers say.

Celebrated architect Cesar Pelli, designer of some of the world's tallest buildings, was sued in August by California's Orange County Performing Arts Center for alleged cost overruns and design flaws in the cutting-edge performance space.

Rafael Vinoly, who designed the landmark Tokyo International Forum, settled a lawsuit last year with the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority for $24 million in a case that involved drainage problems in the sleek building.

"It is not uncommon that architects are so concerned with design that they seem not as interested in whether the building will leak or hold up or what the engineering considerations are," said Boston University law professor Nancy Moore.

Standing in front of the Stata, MIT engineering student Brad Simpson marveled at its design.

"Even when it's raining really hard there always seems to be natural light inside," he said. "It's a really fun building to be in."
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