Thu, Nov 08, 2007 - Page 7 News List

University building leads to lawsuit against Frank Gehry

FLAWED MASTERPIECE Frank Gehry's US$300 million Stata Center opened to critical acclaim in 2004, but MIT says it is plagued with problems


It was supposed to be a geek palace for some of the brightest people on the planet. Dissonant angles, sloping floors, an exterior that suggested some sort of implosion -- these were just the sort of challenges that inspire the great brains sheltered therein.

But now the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has filed a lawsuit against the architect, Frank Gehry, alleging that faulty design has reduced a building that was supposed to be a campus centerpiece into a leaky tenement.

Patrons who commission Gehry expect innovation. He is responsible for the soaring metallic curves of the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao as well as the Walt Disney concert hall in his native Los Angeles, and is often cited as one of the leading architects of the 21st century.

But the lawsuit against Gehry's practice and the contractor, Skanska USA Building Inc, alleges that the university's US$300 million Ray and Maria Stata Center has been plagued with problems since it was completed three years ago.

The suit, filed last week in Boston, seeks unspecified damages for costs and expenses incurred by MIT.

MIT in its suit said it had sought to create a group of buildings that would encourage innovation and exchange among the departments of computing, artificial intelligence and linguistics, all housed in the Stata Center.

The university paid Gehry's firm US$15 million for its work. But, according to the suit, poor drainage almost immediately led to cracks in the outdoor amphitheater, snow and ice fell off the irregular angles of the walls and blocked emergency exits, and mould sprouted on exterior brick. The university says it spent more than US$1.5 million hiring a company to repair the damage.

Gehry's critics have long accused him of overvaulting ambition, both in terms of assessing the depths of his clients' pockets as well as the technological limitations on turning his visions into reality.

Two of Gehry's earlier university projects have run into difficulties. A 1986 engineering building for the University of California at Irvine has been torn down because it leaked. A building at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio cost more than double the original estimate.

Critics have been divided since the Stata Center's completion, with some praising its innovation and others denouncing it as a blight on the landscape.

In 1989, when Gehry was awarded the prestigious Pritzker prize, the citation read: "His sometimes controversial, but always arresting body of work, has been variously described as iconoclastic, rambunctious and impermanent, but the jury, in making this award, commends this restless spirit that has made his buildings a unique expression of contemporary society and its ambivalent values."

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