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. 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?