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MIT is suing Frank Gehry

Posted by: Helen Walters on November 6, 2007


The AP is reporting that MIT is suing Frank Gehry over “serious design flaws” in the Stata Center, completed back in 2004.

We ran a story a while back which questioned the success of the building, and some of the comments from people who’ve been there/used it complained that it leaked and its design made it an unappealing place to work. It was certainly a high profile building for the architect who created similarly asymmetric structures in Bilbao (his iconic Guggenheim museum) and Los Angeles (the Walt Disney Concert Hall).


Now I haven’t visited this particular building in person, and I feel predisposed to love Gehry’s buildings (the IAC building in New York is simply spectacular). But here I find myself falling into the ‘no smoke, no fire’ category of reaction. And that makes me sad and cross. Gloriously bold architecture needs to be about much more than the grand gesture. The suit complains of persistent leaks in the building and continues that “accumulations of snow and ice have fallen dangerously from window boxes and other areas of its roofs, blocking emergency exits and causing damage.” What? Snow in the north east of America in winter time? Well duh. Why was this not taken into consideration?

Who knows how this suit, which also names the construction firm Skanska, will play out (it’s seeking unspecified damages; Gehry’s fee was $15 million; the building itself cost $300 million) but one thing’s for sure. It’s a huge step back for the architectural community, which will only find it that much harder to get clients to take risks on a different-looking or innovative design. And that makes me mad and sad too.

Photographs: Getty Images

Reader Comments

Mark Kogan

November 7, 2007 1:46 PM

Frank Gehry is one of the most iconic architects in America. At the same time, his buildings are notoriously famous for leaking (he's in good company with Frank Lloyd Wright). I live next door to Gehry's first residential home ever designed and I can tell you for certain that it leaks.
Unfortunately, in the quest to make an architectural statement, clients are foresaking practicality for boldness. And nowhere more than architecture does one need to marry aesthetics with soundness.
Anyone who hires Gehry should perform research on how his buildings perform. Had MIT done this, it would most likely have avoided this unfortunate lawsuit.

Brandon W

November 7, 2007 4:21 PM

Good. Gehry's architecture is disastrous. I've always thought his designs looked like beat up tin cans tossed into a pile, glued together, and painted. This is all indicative of modern architecture. There are amazing, gorgeous buildings that have been standing in Europe for hundreds of years, yet, with all the latest technology available to them no one can make a building that holds together for a decade anymore; much less one that also looks good.

Anne W

November 7, 2007 6:02 PM

I always wonder why these articles never tell what the Contractor's fee is? for a $300 million construction cost..its going to be more than the architect's fee.

Architects don't invent roofing systems nor do they install them. they also don't install sealants, window systems, build walls or supervise the people who do.
those "amazing gorgeous" buildings in Europe probably have walls that are 24" to 30" thick, and its VERY hard for a wall that thick to leak. No owner is going to pay for that much real estate that they can't rent out.

Michael Yawitch

November 7, 2007 6:49 PM

More than anything else, Gehry's Stata Center building for MIT looks as if it is "drunk".

Aaron Keller

November 8, 2007 10:33 PM

The great architects push the boundaries and sometimes systems fail. Clients take risks with the architect, if they don't investigate the risks they shouldn't place all the blame on the architect.

While there is obvious responsibility with taking these risks -- the architect bears some of that responsibility and of course the contractor has some as well. A good contractor knows what will fail and has a responsibility to inform the client.

Last, when form goes too far out in front of function, failure will occur.

a keller

Sherry Cooper

November 9, 2007 5:57 PM

"It’s a huge step back for the architectural community, which will only find it that much harder to get clients to take risks on a different-looking or innovative design."

I disagree; this is a wake-up call for both the architects and the building contractors. You can have innovative designs that also take into considerations the engineering and structural requirements and limitations. This building belongs in a Dr. Suess book, not in the Nor'east. (MIT should also have reviewed the plans carefully before forking over the $300M.)

Jonathan Brill

November 10, 2007 2:34 AM

There are three types of architecture:
1. Functional
2. Profitable
3. Iconic

Occasionally, the fortunate client gets all three. The building is fantastically disfunctional, mildly space efficient, and a glorious icon.

Honestly, I can't imagine working there. It takes up a massive footprint on MIT's limited campus. And construction was problematic.

Gehry did what Gehry does: he created a civic ICON. This turns out to have been a poor business decision on the university's part.

If you are interested in buildings that are both iconic and profitable, there are several great consultancies that consistently achieve this:

Ron Pompei:

Norman Foster:

and, of course, feel free to check us out:

D. Hoyt

November 10, 2007 7:48 AM

Don't blame the contractors. They warned Ghery that some of his designs were going to cause problems. For example, they asked for a drainage system under the outdoor amphitheater, and Ghery insisted that it be built as designed. A year later, MIT spent millions replacing the collapsing structure.

Stata is a ridiculous building. Its interior wastes huge amounts of space, is annoyingly goofy, and is ugly. The exterior looks like something from a Dick Tracy cartoon. If someone working for me proposed hiring Ghery as an architect, that someone would be fired.

John Tribble

November 13, 2007 2:19 PM

Building aesthetics vary from generation to generation. The success of Frank O. Gehry’s building does not hinge upon the love or dislike of abstract form, nor does the responsibility of enclosure solely rides on Gehry’s shoulders (that is the contractor’s worry as well). As architect, Mr. Gehry ‘s duties to this structure to engage the following questions: first, is the structure an iconic expression within the contents of the site; second, how do the users move within the structure; third, how do the users of the structure perform their tasks and how does the building respond back. Certainly, it is in Mr. Gehry’s best interest to monitor the construction of the building but he is only one man… that’s why we have a team of consultants and contractors working on such structures of monumental stature.

Dan Lewis

November 18, 2007 9:39 PM

Come on everyone, it doesn't matter what the building looks like -- it has to function. No excuses, and don't blame the client for not reviewing the design, that's why they hired the architect, etc. Bleeding edge doesn't have to mean leaking edge.


November 25, 2007 5:42 PM

This isn't anything new. Gehry's Peter B. Lewis building at Case Western Reserve University has the same issues with leaking and falling ice/snow.

The first semester the building was open for classes, several of my classes were cancelled due to the building flooding (turns out pipes next to metal freeze in the winter) and the front sidewalks are always closed in the winters due to dangerous snow and ice falls.

T.J. O'Neill

November 29, 2007 1:32 AM

I like the building design. It is no doubt "functional" also- I read where there were a lot of design development meetings between "Gehry's people" and the people who were going to use the building. Wacky forms don't automatically mean " not functional". I guess regarding the "snow and ice falling issue" that heat from the building should have been made to circulate into wherever there were ledges or overhangs-or else radiant heating wires, tied into the bldg. thermostats, should have been put in these locations. Who knows re. the leaking problem-is it roof or wall areas ? Problem is, with the huge size of the bldg. there could be trouble in River City if it's problems of the same type, repeated.

Bua Norris

June 5, 2009 3:38 PM

I love the architecture.

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