Gehry sued over leaky university building

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 centrepiece 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 $300-million Ray and Maria Stata Centre 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, which are all housed in the Stata Centre.

The university paid Gehry’s firm $15-million for its work. But, according to the suit, poor drainage almost immediately led to cracks in the outdoor amphitheatre, 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 $1,5-million hiring a company to repair the damage.

”Gehry breached its duties by providing deficient design services and drawings,” the suit said, according to the Boston Globe.

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 for the management school of Case Western Reserve University in Ohio cost more than double the original estimate.

Critics have been divided since the Stata Centre’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.”

Gehry Partners did not respond to calls and emails from the Boston Globe. A spokesperson for MIT declined to comment to Associated Press because of the pending lawsuit. – Guardian Unlimited Â

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