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Bashing Architects With Lawsuit, as MIT Did, Kills Innovation

The $300 million Stata Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology doesn’t look much like a research lab. Its brightly colored collision of angular and cylindrical forms seems to line-dance down dour Vassar Street in Cambridge. The skeptics gleefully piled on. John Silber, the former president of Boston University, called it a disaster. He had put Stata on the cover of his book “Architecture of the Absurd: How‘Genius’ Disfigured a Practical Art.”

After the building opened in 2004, it developed several problems, including leaks, cracking bricks, mold and globs of snow crashing on the sidewalk. MIT sued Stata’s architect, Frank O. Gehry, and Beacon Skanska, its builder, in 2007 without naming a figure for damages.

The terrace of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Stata Center. The terrace was rebuilt after a lawsuit against architect Frank O. Gehry and contractor Beacon Skanska claimed it was not properly designed or constructed. Photographer: James S. Russell/Bloomberg

Is Stata frivolous?

We should applaud buildings that take reasonable risks and encourage architects and clients to embrace innovation.

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Comment by Marilda Antonini on August 21, 2010 at 9:33am
Congratulations M Gregory! I totally agree with your comment.
Comment by Milton Gregory Grew on August 21, 2010 at 12:48am
If I were Gehry or another architect who pushes the envelope of design, building technology, properties of materials and construction documentation I think I would insist on a disclaimer in my owner-architect agreements limiting liability for roof leaks, moisture problems, mold and the like. Aside from that, no matter who the architect or how mind-bending the design may be, owners and users are entitled to a building that functions properly. I think we forget that architecture is not just art. If Gehry is so enamored with his shapes then he should simply be a sculptor and no one would care about leaks. However, he is an architect and he expects humans to live, work and visit his buildings which means he is obliged to balance form with function and make the building work on both his and the owner's terms. I think it is ridiculous to hold the more imaginative of our profession to a lower standard of performance than the lesser known and maybe less creative of us that are still subject to suits when our designs don't perform in the most practical ways. Frankly I cringe when "starchitects" are sued for stuff like roof leaks because these reports give our whole profession a bad name and continue the impression that we all design overbudget, unbuildable and unusable buildings.
Comment by William F. Stewart Jr on August 18, 2010 at 11:10pm
This is a classic example of CA(construction admin.) gone bad! I will give Ghery the benefit of the doubt that this project was well documented and lost it way in the construction phase.
Comment by Dale E. Ragland, Architect on August 18, 2010 at 10:20pm
This building is an embarrassment to the Architectural Profession. A total disaster.A building should reflect the functions that are happening within. The public confidence should be asured that the function and use of it's purpose is valid and complete. A public building of this nature should be designed to meet those needs and not to meet the personal follies and design whims of the Architect's ego.The building should reflect the needs of the client not an edifice to the Architect.This building creates a feeling resembling the fear created by the San Francisco earthwake. Lawsuits come about from the Architects stupid mistakes and it's misinterpretation of clients programs.
Comment by William J. Martin WJM Architect on August 18, 2010 at 5:14pm
It is only natural for clients and building users to desire value in their buildings. Architects need to be creative and provide real recognizable value through thoughtful design. The aesthetics value, balanced with the functional value, further balanced with economic value needs to be clearly demonstrated to clients, building users and society.

The greatest architectural creativity springs from respect for the factors that constrain the design.

We need to stop fighting the normal constraints placed on design... It is becoming a pathetic excuse. Oh the design would have been better if it wasn't for the lawyers, contractors, banker, owners, "insert additional excuses here".

Visual aesthetics alone does NOT constitute good design and people rightfully expect more.

When successfully designed, the whole architectural design including proper function and value will artistically exceed the sum of its parts. It will transcend itself and reach a higher plane of artistic expression.

Challenging architects to design something that actually works and creates value as intended will not retard innovation, it will inspire it!
Comment by Isaac Salas on August 18, 2010 at 3:27pm
Innovation in design is not just how it looks but also how it performs, leaky building are a fail and they should be allowed to sue for a defective product but not for how it looks... in the end it looks like a Gehry building and that is exactly who they hired.
Comment by Marilda Antonini on August 18, 2010 at 3:05pm
Today the formal innovation in architecture should necessarily be associated with optimal performance of the building. Mr. Frank Gehry has shown, repeatedly, do not worry about it. I think his work is usually a bad reference to the practice of architects new generations.
Comment by Yenisei Garces Bell on August 18, 2010 at 10:48am
Tyson, I must agree with you on all you said, and that is one on the reason why a lot of firms out there, does not care much for design, while development of budgeting play a big role on all final concepts, in all cases is first on the table, -how can i keep myself from getting sue-, let's no take risk on design, coming up with a not so risky a.k.a "conventional design", letting our new professional an the not so new being stuck with the same to avoid the whole law sue things...stick with what I know is safe...that's their philosophy..
and all our imagination, creations, designs go flying in the air.
Comment by Tyson on August 17, 2010 at 10:42pm
It's an interesting point. On one hand you have a client that believes they received a defective product. On the other hand, they hired Frank Gehry, which obviously has some uncertainty and risk associated with his practice. You also have a culture that likes to sue, approximately 94% of all lawsuits in the world happen in the US. You will also find that architects in practice will largely side with Stata on the issue. Most architects spend most of their time figuring out how not to get sued and much less time on pushing the envelope of design, so they like to see a dreamer get punched in the nose. So I'm not sure who's right and who's wrong on this particular issue, but I will say that our legal system makes it very difficult to take risks as a designer.

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