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So, Gehry Got Sued ...

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Frank Gehry received a very public spanking in November when The Boston Globe revealed—on its front page, no less—that MIT was suing the architect for “providing deficient design services and drawings” for its $300 million Stata Center in Cambridge, Mass.

The blogosphere went wild over the news, portraying Gehry either as a reckless egotist, pushing strange shapes and spaces on successive unwitting clients and finally getting his comeuppance, or as the latest victim in a centuries-old struggle between innocent artistry and unfeeling patronage.

So what was the fuss really about? Apparently, the three-year-old Stata Center leaks, mold is growing on the exterior, snow and ice fall off the curved roof and projecting windows, and MIT had to spend $1.5 million to rebuild an amphitheater that was cracking due to poor drainage.

MIT is certainly within its rights to sue—no matter how tacky the move may seem, coming from an institution dedicated to innovation, with its attendant risks—and it's certainly reasonable for MIT to expect that its shiny new $300 million toy will work. What's more, Gehry's giant reputation certainly shouldn't get him off the hook for delivering a faulty building, if that's indeed what happened. MIT also named the contractor, Skanska USA Building Inc., in the suit. (The contractor wasted no time throwing Gehry under the bus, claiming to have warned his office that the original amphitheater design was faulty and that their warnings went unheeded.) The whole thing is a mess.

Before we start blaming crazy Gehry or making excuses for him, let's take a collective step back. Is the situation really so unusual? Architects, contractors, and clients get embroiled in lawsuits all the time. That's why we have lawyers. For architects in search of a moral, the lawsuit in question should serve as little more than a timely reminder to get familiar with the new AIA contract documents (see story). As it is, Gehry's famous, so the squabble is getting the kind of media attention typically reserved for Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan's latest stint in rehab. In that context, who cares?

 
 

Comments (19 Total)

  • Posted by: mohamed | Time: 10:18 AM Thursday, December 27, 2007

    The client has the right to sue an architect when his design leaks in water and is not approperiate for the site conditions because the client pays money for the design services (in Gehry's case a lot of money)of the architect who has a license to do this job and is responsible for the built results. Architects learn for five years in the university, have knowledge of building standards and requirements and should not build faulty buildings and then learn from their expensive built mistakes. The issue here is not about innovation and futuristic designs , it is about paying money for a service and not recieving the service properly .

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  • Posted by: mohamed | Time: 10:16 AM Thursday, December 27, 2007

    The client has the right to sue an architect when his design leaks in water and is not approperiate for the site conditions because the client pays money for the design services (in Gehry's case a lot of money)of the architect who has a license to do this job and is responsible for the built results. Architects learn for five years in the university, have knowledge of building standards and requirements and should not build faulty buildings and then learn from their expensive built mistakes. The issue here is not about innovation and futuristic designs , it is about paying money for a service and not recieving the service properly .

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  • Posted by: JKennedy | Time: 10:02 AM Saturday, December 22, 2007

    Give me a break. It all comes down to providing service to your client(something lost in today's society). If you bought a NEW house and it had this many problems after three years, you would sue the pants off the builder. This type of customer service is a dis-service to all architects. Franks deserves to lose his pants.

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  • Posted by: RossCann | Time: 1:48 PM Wednesday, December 19, 2007

    The difference between sculpture and architecture is that architecture has to keep the water out and the heat in. Few would argue that buildings like Bilbao are not extraordinary works of spatial art. The jury is still out as to whether Gerhy's flights of fancy will be regarded in the long term as architecture.

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  • Posted by: wubbena | Time: 10:46 AM Wednesday, December 19, 2007

    The fact is, that with any new design technique you will observe some flaws and failures. FLW's style has failed all over the place. Falling Water has to have routine maintaince to keep it from falling in the water. I admire Gehry for his push in design. Todays archtiects have failed the public by following the sheep and developers in cookie cutter design that no longer represents a culture. We are left with nothing to show for our time. Does the building leak?? sure...so fix it...learn from it...and move on.

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  • Posted by: jtmarch000 | Time: 11:42 AM Monday, December 17, 2007

    My comment actually doesn't deal with the design or the client's expectations. The most telling part of the story is found, I believe, in the portion of the article that claims that "that is why we have lawyers." Actually - isn't the reason we're all so litigious is because lawyers have forced themselves into so much of our lives? "Back in the day", folks would work out concerns and differences without the need for all this legal double-talk and maneuvering. In reality, there's probably sufficient blame to share between all parties.

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  • Posted by: szdone | Time: 11:21 PM Saturday, December 15, 2007

    PART 2 of comments 5. If we don't push the envelope, how can we progress. I don't mean we should do this irresponsibly, but we should base it on vision and having the best data, technology, and follow thru, we can pull together, to give the client the best possible project. I realize, in the end it comes down to MONEY. But, the architect IS responsible for the project, it's his design and the clients' vision. If he does not follow thru, how can we expect the project to finish, with everybody satisfied, that they did the best possible job, they could. By the way, Wright was always in the crosshairs of gun sites. Who else designs chairs for a 15 min. meeting, because he does not want his clients interfering with THEIR project. I do like Wright's work it's just.... All right enough of the soapbox. They called, He designed, They built, and now it leaks. That's what they invented HENRYS for, let's just get on with our lives, and our practices, and learn from his mistakes.

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  • Posted by: szdone | Time: 11:19 PM Saturday, December 15, 2007

    Comments on the current subject: 1. Let the buyer beware and the seller should never lie,or leave important points, for he shall be caught. 2. Any press is good press. Right or wrong, good or bad, as long as it keeps you in the spotlight.(not saying that's He did) 3. People who live in Glass Houses should not throw stones. I may not agree with Gehry's Idea of what architecture is, how he runs his practice, or what his attitude toward his clients is, but he has to live with himself. 4. If people who are not privy to all the aspects of the project,they should not judge, but they do. SEE part 2 of comments

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  • Posted by: Skeptic | Time: 9:59 PM Tuesday, December 11, 2007

    Was there a so-called construction manager on the project, substituting materials and swaying the client with the tempting (and always false) lure of monetary savings? Today, very few of the parties involved, including the owner, the architect and the contractor have the knowledge or experience to execute the projects that they contract to provide and the sad part of it is, they do not know that they do not know. With many of our manufactured products being made in China, Mexico and other climes there is very little quality control. Steel made elsewhere rarely meets strength, HVAC units made south of the border under U.S. marques show up defective - just two of many product deficiencies. Presumably the owner knowingly contracted for a risky design. There are at least three or four sides and parties, who are all part of the problem and should all share the blame and with the only winner being the attorneys.

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  • Posted by: K.S. Conley | Time: 2:51 PM Tuesday, December 11, 2007

    Public popularity and professional notoriety do not a great designer make (Capability Brown, anyone?.) It's up to future generations of architects, historians and occupants to decide Mr. Gehry's lasting influence and importance. While ours, like every other profession, owes a genuine debt of thanks to it's innovators and visionaries, it seems to me our highest ideals should always demand buildings that demonstrate our mastery by being as warm and as dry and as fitted to their intended functions as they are also visually and technically unexpected. That said, okay, Mr. Gehry is getting sued. I have a hard time wishing it on him or anyone. Let justice be served. And then let's get on with it.

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  • Posted by: Andre Ballard | Time: 9:21 AM Tuesday, December 11, 2007

    The negative press for Gehry might indicate some one in the media has a axe to grind at Gehry's expense or is targeting Gehry for some past experience because untill the case is complete they are prematuraly making judgements about Gehry. I believe he is expressing a genius as a architect and if it is his firms faught, that it might reflect more practice issues than design issues. Such as who detailed the building was it Gehry or someone less experienced. It also might reflect more of a transformation than bad design, meaning he will one day get this to work well with out the leaks and the mold. Most of the negative critisism to me reflects a kind of a professional jealousy because encouraging some one else to design better seems to be the matter at hand, or more appropriate.

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  • Posted by: Gary Pope | Time: 11:03 PM Monday, December 10, 2007

    Firmness, Commodity and Delight. A balance of these is what architecture is about. Basic flaws like leaking roofs are not delightful, and with the knowledge of hundreds, even thousands, of years, inexcusable.

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  • Posted by: facmgr81 | Time: 10:05 PM Monday, December 10, 2007

    Another good example of why egotistical architects are bad businessmen- lack of protecting the client's risk and delivering a top quality protect in lieu of trying to make a name and live up to a style. FLW is revered purely for his innovation and style points, but he was an egomaniac and had poor client contact. Gehry and his firm are simply legends in their own mind and this suit proves it. A truly successful architect is one that can marry service, style and a quality product to create a lasting legacy firm. They still just don't seem to get!!!

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  • Posted by: DRDS-11 | Time: 7:00 PM Monday, December 10, 2007

    WOW!!! America's leading fake architect is getting criticized and sued. Its amazing to me that he can still take a piece of paper, crumple it up and make a supposed building out of it and call it ARCHITECTURE. All of his buildings are FAKE or what I call FARCHITECTURE or FARTCHITECTURE. All of his buildings are boxes with fake fronts. To me his buildings are like the old west. Fake, Fake , Fake. It is no wonder they are leaking, milding and structurally unsound. He is no Morphosis or Memphis. It also amazes me that he gets these huge contracts for his nasty buildings and the recognition while most of us struggle to get work and garner clients for the long hall. Someone finally gets what they deserve.

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  • Posted by: RossCann | Time: 5:52 PM Monday, December 10, 2007

    Frank Lloyd Wright had the same challenges that came with pushing the envelope and his reputation seems to have survived. That being said, the difference between architecture and sculpture is that architecture has to keep the rain out and the heat in. No one can deny that Bibao is powerful sculpture. But Ghery's work must meet the pragmatic requirements of his clients to be called great architecture and the jury is still out on that point.

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  • Posted by: Blief1 | Time: 5:12 PM Monday, December 10, 2007

    Frank Gehry is neither hero or villian - he has pushed the edge of technology with his designs. Frank Llyod Wright was said to have replied to a client who a leaky roof that the client should talk to God about the rain. Gehrys work may or may not be great but his imagination and creativity are a constant challenge to the rest of us not to be too comfortable in trying be safe - lawyers should never be allowed to define the limts (or lack of same) that the design and construction industry aspire to - Frank, good luck in the lawsuit.

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  • Posted by: a1997xf211 | Time: 5:03 PM Monday, December 10, 2007

    So Frank Gehry gets negative media attention. Who cares? We should all care! With Frank Gehry destined to become as iconic an architect as his buildings are signature for their cities, the public perception of architects (and consequently the level of respect, influence, and money the public invests in us) is largely in jeopardy. Gehry's behavior, as sifted through the unflattering lens of the media, may very well inform how a large percentage of the public feels about what we do and the credit we deserve for it.

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  • Posted by: CHUCKYD | Time: 4:53 PM Monday, December 10, 2007

    Admitedly, I have only seen photographs of the building, but I am still left wondering, "How can it NOT leak?" I wonder how many of his previous clients are suffering similar deficiencies, but are too scared to admit that they made a mistake in hiring the glitzy architect.

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 2:52 PM Friday, December 07, 2007

    PingBack from http://paris-hilton.celebblogger.info/?p=3047

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About the Blogger

Ned Cramer

thumbnail image Ned Cramer is editor-in-chief of ARCHITECT, and editorial director of ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING, ECO-STRUCTURE, and METALMAG, published by Hanley Wood, a Washington, D.C.-based business media company. Prior to joining Hanley Wood, Cramer served as the first full-time curator of the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF), where he organized public programs and exhibitions such as "A Century of Progress: Chicago's 1933-34 World's Fair" and "New Federal Architecture: The Face of a Nation." At CAF, projects under Cramer's direction received support from foundations and corporations such as Altria, Boeing, the Driehaus Foundation, the Graham Foundation, and the McCormick-Tribune Foundation. He speaks regularly on architecture, design, and related issues. The Avery Architectural Index lists nearly 100 articles with Cramer's byline, many written in his former capacity as executive editor of Architecture magazine. The recipient of an Arts Administration Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, Cramer has held positions at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Menil Collection in Houston. Cramer is an alumnus of the Rice University School of Architecture. He was born and raised in St. Louis.