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Education The Almighty Buck

MIT Sues Frank Gehry Over Buggy $300M CS Building 388

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the modern-architecture-means-modern-bugs dept.
theodp writes "MIT has filed a negligence suit against world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, charging that flaws in his design of the $300 million Stata Center, one of the most celebrated works of architecture unveiled in years, caused leaks to spring, masonry to crack, mold to grow, and drainage to back up. The complex, which houses a Who's Who of Computing including Tim Berners-Lee and Richard Stallman, includes the William H. Gates Building."
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MIT Sues Frank Gehry Over Buggy $300M CS Building

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  • by Nimey (114278) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:15AM (#21266305) Homepage Journal
    There's a reason why most buildings don't look that way, and in fact have a very building-like look. Certain techniques *work*.

    IMAO, this is as much MIT's fault as the architect's, because they approved this very experimental design.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:21AM (#21266383)
      The responsibility of preventing these sorts of issues falls squarely on the architects involved. After all, that's why architects are licensed and paid large sums of money for their services.
      • by krog (25663) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:30AM (#21266491) Homepage
        He is a self-absorbed sculptor whose favorite medium is buildings. MIT has recently made the transition into having a bullshit, weak-headed administration, capable of being held rapt by shiny objects. Throw in $300M and a few hours of hand-waving, and you got yourself one hell of an eyesore (a leaky one, at that).
        • by Marty200 (170963) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @10:20AM (#21267215)
          He is a self-absorbed sculptor whose favorite medium is buildings. MIT has recently made the transition into having a bullshit, weak-headed administration, capable of being held rapt by shiny objects.

          You mean he's just like every other well know architect. Frank Lloyd Wright pull the exact same crap. His roofs were notorious for leaks and yet he's still Americas best known architect.

          MG
          • by ShatteredArm (1123533) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @10:53AM (#21267715)
            At the very least, a civil engineer should've been hired to do a cursory check on things that the architecture might not have considered, such as gravity. Architects are like web designers, i.e., they design pretty interfaces rather than build infrastructures. They're artists, not engineers. I'm not too familiar with how these buildings are done, but don't they have a team of engineers involved to make sure things like this don't happen?
            • by lymond01 (314120) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @11:00AM (#21267809)
              but don't they have a team of engineers involved to make sure things like this don't happen

              Perhaps, on the MIT campus, they couldn't find one?
            • by Nicolas MONNET (4727) <nicoaltiva@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @12:19PM (#21269093) Journal
              Yeah, well said! You rock! I'm sure nobody's thought of that! ... ....

              Just kidding, who do you think you are? Do you think architects do the welding and cement mixing themselves? Do you realize that buildings have been built for, oh, I don't know, thousands of years, and that maybe, just maybe, people thought of this before you?

              The reason why MIT is suing the *architect* is, I believe, because he's responsible for choosing and hiring those engineering firms which were derelict in their duty, and failed to supervise them. Those firms are most likely not contracted directly by MIT, therefore have no direct contractual obligation to them. The architect will, in turn, sue the contractors, or his insurers will.

              I'm not a lawyer, I'm not a civil engineer, I'm just a guy one of whose friends had to sue a real estate developer for the same kind of shit, and who used to have a civil engineer as a neighbor.
              • by flappinbooger (574405) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @05:23PM (#21273599) Homepage
                The customer hires the architect, and pays the architect. The architect FIRM has unlicensed architects do the real drawings. The architect hires the engineers (Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing, Fire Protection, Structural, Civil, Environment, Landscape, on and on) who have unlicensed engineers in the FIRM do the real drawings. Someone hires the general contractor, probably the architect or recommended by the architect, who, in the GC firm have unlicensed engineers do the project management.

                Ultimately the GC will sub out all the real work to the contractors for each trade. They hire the workers who end up putting in the sweat. Gehry may have sketched the design, but a $15 per hour employee did the roof, did the drywall, did the framing, etc.

                The architect draws the pretty pictures, and if an engineer says it CAN be done, he'll believe it. If the engineer can prove it, presumably. Most architects are fairly sharp with buildings, believe it or not.

                I guarantee you, if the lawyers for Gehry have any common sense they will turn around and sue everyone else with their name on a drawing for that structure. THOSE people will then turn around and sue the subs who did the work, claiming they didn't follow the drawings or used sub-par materials or whatever. This will turn into a grand mess. The engineers and architects (I presume?) have liability insurance, and the only real winners are the lawyers.

                I worked for an engineering firm who was named in a lawsuit where a building was designed right but parts were installed terribly. The fingerpointing was massive.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by smellsofbikes (890263)
              When my cousin got her architecture degree, they required her to take mechanical engineering courses in statics: load calculations for cantilevered vs. supported beams, the like. Architects that are fresh out of school -- or at least the architecture schools I know about -- do indeed consider gravity and infrastructure. It's possible that this wasn't the case when Gehry was in school, or that he's been designing for so long he's stopped looking at the nuts-n-bolts, or that he's so famous he doesn't *have*
              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                Yes, architects do learn some basics about mechanical engineering (actually about statics). This does not, however, by any stretch of imagination, qualify them as civil or structural engineers. The reason they learn about it is to make sure they don't TOTALLY screw it up before sending their plans to the civil engineer.

                Take that from my mouth: my wife is an architect, her brother is a civil/structural engineer. :-)

                I just talked to my wife about it, and she confirmed, that the civil engineer can overru
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by mstahl (701501)

            You should read some of the books Frank Lloyd Wright wrote. Can't find a link for you on Amazon but he wrote a couple of books in which he really breaks down a lot of his design decisions and, at least for a lot of his houses, he did take a lot of engineering questions into account that were genuinely ahead of his time. In particular, there's a house here in Chicago that he devoted a few pages to describing exactly how best to accomplish a carport such that groundwater wouldn't seep into the floor (remember

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by khuber (5664)
        Easy for you to say, AC. No, this is all about PR for MIT. Otherwise they would build a box like everyone else.

        As other posters mention, Wright's buildings are notorious for leaks and other problems. $1.5 million to fix a $300 million innovative/radical/experimental design isn't going to cause any hardship for MIT. They should be relieved it was so cheap to fix.

        • by Bender0x7D1 (536254) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @10:09AM (#21267081)

          They should be relieved it was so cheap to fix.

          I have to disagree. If I am spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a building, I expect it to work. At the very least, I would want my $15 million back from the architects. The architects were hired to design a building - the design doesn't work - so they shouldn't be paid. If you hired someone to landscape your yard, and it turned into a river of mud after the first rain, wouldn't you want your money back?

          Sure, to MIT $1.5 million isn't that bad. However, to say they should be relieved they only have to spend that much, (so far), is a little extreme.

    • by coop247 (974899) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:28AM (#21266475)
      This building [case.edu] on campus at Case Western Reserve Univ. was also designed by Gehry. It also has issues with snow/ice (its in Cleveland) building up on the odd angles then falling on people. I walk by it every morning, and if you ask me it's just plain ugly.
      • This building on campus at Case Western Reserve Univ. was also designed by Gehry. It also has issues with snow/ice (its in Cleveland) building up on the odd angles then falling on people. I walk by it every morning, and if you ask me it's just plain ugly.

        I had classes (at a much less prestigious institution) in a building that won architectural awards when it was built back in the 1960s, but had to have functionality refits later. It especially had problems during thunderstorms, with areas that would channel rain through it sideways like a wind tunnel, and drains that would act as geysers and soak the unwary passer-by in semi-indoor areas.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by phobos13013 (813040)
        Don't forget about this baby [wikipedia.org], too! This one is scary considering the parent and TFA since its INTENDED to contain thousands of people. Disney may want to take their name off that building JUST IN CASE. Safety issues aside, I think the work artistically is stunning, and as art should be appreciated so... but similar to Rem Koolhaas [wikipedia.org] and the OMA AMO [www.oma.eu], its intellectually mind-blowing, but functionally, it seems, dangerous. Perhaps art and life aren't as compatible as these folks so detached from everyday rea
      • by dhovis (303725) * on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @10:49AM (#21267645)
        That building also posed a problem for Cleveland's SWAT teams when a crazy former student charged in and started shooting people. The SWAT team found it difficult to operate in a building with no right angles.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Skidge (316075)
          Heh, I was having my wedding rehearsal on campus a block away when that happened. It's a bit creepy when the cops show up and tell you to keep the doors locked in case a homicidal maniac managed to escape the building he was holed up in. It's also nice when the newspaper headline from your wedding day says something like "8 Hours of Terror".

          We also found it sobering when, the day after our wedding, the chapel where we were married held the memorial service for the man killed in that attack.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tompaulco (629533)
        I'm surprised to find no mention of Frank Gehry associated with the abominations all over the University of Illinois at Chicago campus. Cold and stark, crazy angles creating lots of unusable space, huge three foot thick slabs of concrete walkway creating dangerous dark and wet (because the huge slabs are ill-fitting) walkways underneath. As horrible as it looks and functions it simply MUST be nominated for some sort of accolade.
  • flakey architects (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FranTaylor (164577) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:17AM (#21266327)
    Frank Lloyd Wright was also plagued by leaks in the roofs of his buildings.

    Mies Van Der Rohe designed houses in Connecticut that are unlivable due to terrible cold drafts.

    I'll take a competent architect over a famous one any day.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by $RANDOMLUSER (804576)

      I'll take a competent architect over a famous one any day.
      Or at least one who understands the local weather. it's pretty obvious from the description of the buildings faults that Gehry never planned on it getting snowed and rained on, or that there could be temperature extremes that don't happen in Los Angeles.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by JaredOfEuropa (526365)
      As the famous architect Weeber once told a complaining customer: "Good architecture leaks".

      Another reason for not hiring famous architects is that they'll sue you into oblivion if you change anything about the building. Even something as silly as painting the walls in a theater's foyer a different color has resulted in a lawsuit, and the architect won.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by truesaer (135079)
        An architect could only win a lawsuit about the color of the walls if they got the owners to sign a contract saying they couldn't change the color of the walls. Don't sign dumb contracts is the lesson I suppose...
    • Re:flakey architects (Score:4, Informative)

      by Fast Thick Pants (1081517) <fastthickpants@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:44AM (#21266681)
      Frank Lloyd Wright also has a college campus that's falling apart [npr.org], but at least it held together for a little longer than Gehry's.
    • IANAArchitecht, and now I'm just confused.

      Wright and Van Der Rohe were supposed to be modernists, a school of architecture with an extreme emphasis on functionality, often at the expense of looks. (Wright was alleged to be the basis for ultra-principled "Everything must have a purpose" Howard Roark in The Fountainhead.)

      Wouldn't they be the *opposite* of the kind of architect who would overlook something like this?

      • Re:flakey architects (Score:5, Interesting)

        by FranTaylor (164577) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @10:26AM (#21267303)
        Yes, you are not an architect. Read about FLW. A very interesting character. Sometimes brilliant with details, like his earthquake-proofing techniques, and his design for tropical hotels. He had bad problems with leaking roofs and also really horrible personal issues that kept him from achieving even more.

        You would be amazed at the details that archtects overlook. Do you know why houses in the north tend to have overhanging roofs? It's so the melting snow and ice will fall away from the foundation and not cause leaks in the cellar. The lack of overhang also causes unslightly stains on the ouside of the house from the dripping water. Those "modern" buildings they have in California look really stupid here with all their water damage.
    • by mikael (484)
      Same with the

      The new Scottish Parliament building will be designed by a Spanish architect who says his initial inspiration was drawn from the image of upturned boats.

      6000 pounds to stop kerb falls [scotsman.com]

      Oldest part of building needs renovation [scotsman.com]
  • by telchine (719345) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:17AM (#21266333)
    So they named a building after Bill Gates.

    Now the building is full of holes and needs lots of patching up.

    Perhaps they were tempting fate there?
  • Form over Function (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Fysiks Wurks (949375) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:20AM (#21266363)
    If you want art you get art. If you want a higly functional building that will have minimal maintance and which can be expanded or repurposed as the furture dictates you can hardly beat a bix box building. MIT chose art.
    • by A beautiful mind (821714) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @10:32AM (#21267369)
      No, it's not an exclusive-or choice. Gehry is just simply a shitty architect. He's making big sculptures instead of what a good architect should do - innovative new buildings that look good, make a statement AND make a pleasure to use the building through the master architect's good solutions.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by SharpFang (651121)
      You can also get a pretty standard building wrapped in a neat package that doesn't hurt the functionality.
      But if you create a weird sculpture and start trying to stuff a building inside, things are getting ugly.

      I've seen quite a few "late eastern bloc" eyesores that worked fine as buildings but were just that, zero care about appearances, "renovated" by putting a wrapping of glass, by adding some interesting extras here and there, making them quite interesting pieces of architecture without destroying the f
  • by alewar (784204) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:20AM (#21266367)
    next time they should hire a civil engineer ...
  • KISS (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jellomizer (103300) * on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:21AM (#21266381)
    Sigh... Keep It Simple Stupid. People want a something that looks cool. But when it interferes with function they blame the Architect...
    Kinda fitting for a building that covers Computer Science...

    There are reasons why most buildings look generally alike for a few thousand years.... Ease of building, efficiency of design. This had neither. But they went for it anyways... It is structurally sound so don't blame the atchect. You need to do more maintenance on the building because you didn't pay $300M for a building but $300M for a work of Art... Art needs to be preserved...

    If the Computer Science department learned about KISS design they wouldn't be in that problem... I don't know if I would want to hire a CS Student from MIT if they don't teach the KISS Concept...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by thegnu (557446)
      Yeah, that's sort of why you hire an engineer AND an architect. The architect gets really excited about all the awesome things he could do, and the engineer explains why it's a bad idea to have big holes in the roof of a computer science lab.

      Also, while I in no way defend doctors, I think that people have to be their own primary care physician, because NOBODY can know more about you than you can. You just delegate out technical shit to professionals, and when they tell you they need to cut off some dangly
    • Re:KISS (Score:5, Interesting)

      by FranTaylor (164577) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:39AM (#21266599)
      It's not "Keep It Simple", it's "Sweat The Details". It's not possible to design a big building in Cambridge, MA and have it be simple. For one, there is no soil to speak of. It's all Charles River mud. Every building in that part of Cambridge is basically a concrete boat floating on the mud, sometimes supported by piles down to bedrock, sometimes not.

      For another, the extreme temperature changes from summer to winter, and the requirement that the building be heated and cooled from MIT's central steam plant.

      Add into that the security, networking, and social interaction requirements, and you have a really complex building before the architect even picks up his light pen. Simplicity is just out. "Managed Complexity" is necessary.

      MIT knows a lot about preserving its buildings. Many of its buildings are landmarks and are carefullly preserved. It used to let ivy grow on the outsides of some buildings, in the traditional manner, except the ivy destroys the mortar between the bricks. It's very expensive to replace, so they just ripped out all the ivy. Harvard has also done this.

      The external form of a building is really a rather minor point and has little to do with how well it is designed or executed. MIT has parking garages with leaky roofs, You don't need Frank Gehry to design a building with a leaky roof.
      • KISS Still applies...
        The KISS process is not about making products that are so basic that they don't function correctly. As you stated there are complex challenges to the solution. But there is a difference between say putting in a concrete pile down to the bedrock vs. say having helicopters pull on some cables every 3 months to keep it afloat, or even crazier put some Helicopter propeller blades on top of the building and keep them running to keep it afloat...

        Usually to solve most complex problems there a
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by FranTaylor (164577)
          You don't have anything to do with building construction, do you?

          My sister is a Civil Engineer. Her life is nothing but small details to be fixed. She tells me, for example, that building requirements change from town to town and what is perfectly acceptable in one place will not meet code at all in another. It is literally impossible to design a public rest room that meets building codes in all 50 states. It's kind of hard to develop standardized solutions when the problem is different for every buildi
      • by krog (25663)
        Three hundred million Ameribucks should be enough to drive some piles, hook up to the steam plant across the street, AND design and install a proper roof.

        It should be, but it is not, because Frank Fucking Gehry had a vision: yet another monstrosity that looks like a scrap heap welded together during an episode of Junkyard Wars.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by UbuntuDupe (970646) *
      If the Computer Science department learned about KISS design they wouldn't be in that problem... I don't know if I would want to hire a CS Student from MIT if they don't teach the KISS Concept...

      Newsflash: *Most* graduates of MIT have never learned how to kiss (though why you capitalize the term, I have no idea).
      • That is kinda like a double insult.
        so you are implying the MIT Students don't have any social life and they don't know about computer science.... What are they paying money for?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Salamander (33735)

      People want a something that looks cool. But when it interferes with function they blame the Architect...
      Looking cool could not possibly have interfered with function in this case, because there's nothing even remotely cool-looking about the Stata Center.
  • by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:23AM (#21266417) Homepage
    Or 1.2 A-Rods in Standard Approximation Units.
    • by GundamFan (848341)
      How many is that in Libraries of Congress sold at retail in paperback? (LoCSRiP has a nice ring to it I think...)
  • by eniac42 (1144799) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:24AM (#21266427) Journal
    Did it crash?
  • by plopez (54068) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:25AM (#21266445) Journal
    to qoute:
    "Not warranted to be useful for any purpose. Not intended for any critical or even any trivial functions, users assume all risks and will indemnify and hold blameless the architect and builders. User(s) also waive all right to recourse without the express written consent of the builders or architect. By reading this EULA you agree to all terms of the EULA. This EULA can be modified or revoked at anytime without notice by the builders or architect."

    OK, a bit silly. Unless of course it has to do with software.

  • by dal20402 (895630) * <dal20402@mac.EINSTEINcom minus physicist> on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:28AM (#21266473) Journal

    TFA says MIT also sued Skanska, the GC. I'd be curious to know how much of the fault lies with Skanska and its subcontractors.

    I live in Cambridge (actually about 4 blocks from the building in question). If there's one thing that's universally true in the Boston area, it's that the quality of construction is exceedingly shoddy. People don't know how to build things well here.

    • Re:Construction? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by YU5333021 (1093141) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @10:24AM (#21267253) Homepage
      Bingo! GC- general contractor. From my experience, in these kinds of lawsuit cases the plaintiff names everyone involved, down to the smallest of consultants. Let God err.. courts sort it all out. Having personally seen Gehry's office construction details for other projects, I'd definitively say that there is plenty of thought placed at avoiding the issues that are currently plaguing the project. The field execution of said details may be another issue, but there are plenty of safety measures (mock-ups, water pressure tests, etc) to ensure the quality of built components. It will ultimately come down to the front end (Conditions of The Contract) of the design manual to figure out who is in charge of quality control. In this particular case, Gehry's design is not that much unlike other projects he's previously constructed. If it was a fundamental flaw in design, then his other projects should exhibit similar problems.

      On a related subject, I am an Architect who currently works as a technical design consultant, and I am very disappointed at what I've read in this tread so far. "It's schools fault for wanting a design design"? "KISS"??? "There is a reason why buildings need to look boring"?
      Truly depressing... Some of my old school pals are slaving away in 'starchitect' offices, rarely getting a weekend off; trying to innovate; to improve on the built environment around us. I sometimes ask them do they know who they are doing this for? Have they ever seen their ultimate end user? Even your end user who may know how write perfect computer code written on just a roll of toilet paper is probably likely to dismiss years of your work in a heartbeat.

      Most people just don't care. I am amazed that buildings such as Gehry's ever get built. It's especially demoralizing here in North America... It's burger and fries baby for life...
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TheLink (130905)
        "I am amazed that buildings such as Gehry's ever get built"

        I'm not. There are lots of idiots with money to blow away, especially if it isn't really their money.

        I'm fine with interesting looking buildings. But his buildings don't look that great (they probably looked dated the day they were drawn) and sure looks like many of them don't work well. They are probably the Ford Edsels of architecture.

        Anybody can make something different that's crap. And you can often get away with it if you're just making "art".
  • by Red Flayer (890720) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:32AM (#21266523) Journal
    From wikipedia article on Gehry

    He studied city planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design for a year, leaving before completing the program
    Y'know, just saying... maybe Gehry finally made an effort on the other side of the one-sided Harvard-MIT rivalry [everything2.com].
  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:35AM (#21266569) Homepage
    I could be viewing this through the haze of nostalgia, and I can't swear that I ever took classes in or visited labs on the top floor. But. I don't think the roof leaked.

    My recollection is that the famously shabby Building 20, built hastily as a temporary building during World War II and kept in service until the Stata replaced it, was a perfectly adequately functional building that did all the various things you'd expect a building to do. (That could be a sexist remark: I don't remember what the ratio of mens' to womens' bathrooms in building 20 was; they might have been unequal).

    I do not remember anyone who worked in it ever complaining about it. There must have been some, but I think it was by and large very well liked by its inhabitants.

    One of the things that seemed odd to me about the Stata is that it was often felt that something about Building 20 actually seemed to encourage creativity and collaborative work, and I've always wondered why MIT, Gehry at all didn't first make a serious study Building 20 to see how and why it worked before embarking on what frankly looks to me like a half-baked display of architectural egotism.

    I think Building 20's lack of visual distinctiveness may have been a plus, because it did not feel as if you were living under the shadow of someone else's creativity.

    Any person with even a touch of humility would have to feel intimidated by looking out the window of one of MIT's main buildings and seeing names like Newton and Lavoisier looming over them. I've never been in the Stata, but I think it would give one the impression of being subordinated to someone else's sense of play, instead of letting one free to express one's own playfulness.
  • by pz (113803) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:42AM (#21266649) Journal
    I hope that people who work in the Stata Center will reply to this thread. I have many friends there, but have not, myself spent more than an occasional afternoon in the complex.

    That said, there are some things that buildings, especially public buildings, should do. They should make it easy to find things, especially central, shared resources like elevators, lobbies, cafeterias, and, especially, exits. The Stata Center fails on all counts. It is difficult-to-impossible to navigate to the uninitiated and, from what people who work there tell me, it is difficult for them as well.

    The interior spaces are very architecturally interesting. But have so many bugs it is unbelievable. There is one meeting room where the walls are made with perforated plywood; this is a cool idea, but, regrettably, due to the mechanisms that human vision uses to fuse the images between the two eyes, the sea of holes makes people feel queasy in that room. The workspaces are part of a grand open-office design. The previous building where LCS/AI was housed was the antithesis of open design -- a series of small offices -- and it worked very well. With the new building, researchers and students spend more of their time at home, rather than in the building, because the lack of acoustic privacy in the open design makes it extremely difficult to get any research done. In another area, there are ledges high up in one two-story space that are visible only from the story above -- kind of interesting, but these ledges will never, ever be cleaned and are starting to accumulate a goodly layer of dust. This wouldn't be so bad, except that people entering that space from the elevator lobby are immediately faced with this grime.

    From what people intimately involved with the planning have told me, Geary approached the design of this building with astonishing hubris and disregard for any of the actual needs of the occupants. Interactions with him were often tense and acrimonious. Geary's willing ignorance of the real use of the building, rather than his imagined fantasy, shows. It's a cool looking structure that works very, very poorly as a research laboratory. Although few people who work there are willing to state it out loud, the rumblings are being felt that the decline of computer science research at MIT has in no small part been due to this negative influence of the building on daily worklife.

    A good building will not only be easy to use, but will inspire its occupants. The old building at 545 Tech Square wasn't showy at all, but had some fantastic vistas, and a reasonably efficient use of space. (I had a series of offices in that building over the span of 14 years.) It was perhaps no accident that the basis for much of Computer Science (time-sharing operating systems, language research, the internet, high-performance compilers, distributed computation, microarchitecture, multi-processor design, speech recognition, theory, and a host of other areas) was performed there. I hope that this illustrious history will be continued in the Stata center, but am beginning to wonder if it will.
    • by Otter (3800)
      Although few people who work there are willing to state it out loud, the rumblings are being felt that the decline of computer science research at MIT has in no small part been due to this negative influence of the building on daily worklife.

      It's interesting that you say that -- from the day the skeleton of that building went up, it struck me that such a jumbled mess of architecture seems counterproductive to a good frame of mind for CS and math research. Just walking by it, your head starts to spin.

      The ne

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @10:15AM (#21267155)
      MIT graduate here.

      I was around when they first unveiled the building and no body liked it from the start. The administration thought it would be a neat idea to put this ugly red metal installation art piece in the grass in front of Stata. Some creative people over at EC decided to turn it into a giant swing. The administration got angry and took it down right away. I tried to find pictures of this hack, but I couldn't find any. However, in a related incident, some more MIT hackers did this [mit.edu] to the MIT sign sitting outside of Stata. I think that says it all.

      The building has always had problems. During the first year, the fire alarm would randomly go off and everyone would have to evacuate. This was especially bad because the first floor housed a handful of classrooms (almost everyone had at least one class in 32-123, which held around 300 people, regardless of their major).

      I held several UROPs (undergraduate research) in Stata and I can attest that the open work environment doesn't work. I usually ended up sitting around a bunch of people that weren't even in a related group so they became huge distractions. They would talk to each other a lot and brainstorm, but I was left trying to concentrate on my work. In the end, I just set up the software on my laptop and worked from my dorm room.

      The floor layouts are definitely confusing. I always got lost when I had to find a professor's office for the first time. More importantly, I'd get lost trying to find a bathroom on a particular floor. Not cool.

      Ironically, there is a huge water filtration system present just outside that harvests the tons of rainwater that we get and uses it in the toilets and stuff. I'm surprised that hasn't broken yet (maybe it has and I just don't know it yet).

      And the only reason why MIT made such an odd looking building is for tourism. Tons and tons of people visit MIT every day for tours. They may be visiting MIT explicitly or they may just be visiting Boston and decided to take the trolley tour (which starts in Kendall Square, i.e. 2 blocks from the Stata Center) and they ALL take the same pictures. They pose in front of Building 7 or in Lobby 7 (77 Mass Ave.), they'll pose in front of the Great Dome in Killian Court and they all pose in front of the Stata Center (either the steps to the third floor or the, now reconstructed, amphitheater). I mean, without a few interesting sights, the tourists would get bored. While I agree that this sort of tourism doesn't necessarily generate MIT revenue, but it does generate attention and enough attention can be used to turn into money.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @12:12PM (#21268983)
      It's true; the building is broken by design. I do work in the Stata Center, and it is as bad as everyone says it is.

      The seminar room you mention ("Kiva") is unbelievably disorienting; the problem goes far beyond perforated plywood, which certainly accentuates the problem. The walls jut in and out at odd angles, and lean inward and askew as they climb to an offcenter window. I find the room nauseating; visitors I've brought by don't believe that the floor is actually level, the effect is so strong.

      Security in the building is a complete joke, as there is no logic to the organization and separation of space, requiring complex electronically controlled access policies that are fundamentally broken.

      HVAC in the building is horrible, although I understand that this is the case in many places, and was certainly the case in our previous building, NE-43.

      Navigation is a nightmare; when people are lost in the building, I often lead them to where they want to go. There's no point trying to explain it to them, because the layout is so nontraditional that it defies simple explanation.

      Office spaces are a mixed bag; some are beautiful spaces with recessed windows that make nice sitting areas. Others are cramped cubicles or have columns jutting through the middle.

      I don't object to daring design-- it's just that Gehry seems to go out of his way to make things unusable.

      There's a brief interview with Gehry in the film "My Architect" about Louis Kahn, and Gehry was interviewed in his architectural office, and it's as traditional as you could imagine: a big rectangular room with drafting tables. That settled it for me: it's not just hubris; he's an asshole. He sits in his comfortable space and designs expensive torture chambers; there's a Gehry-designed level of hell awaiting him.
  • by murderlegendre (776042) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:45AM (#21266689)

    Gehry won't be receiving much sympathy from the residents of Minneapolis, who are forced to live with the Weisman Museum. The 'tin man' as it's known is sore-thumb public eyesore #1 in the U of M campus area.

    Eyesore - figuratively and literally. Not only is this one of the ugliest, most mis-placed pieces of architecture in the metro, its reflective stainless steel skin blinds drivers crossing the Washington Avenue bridge in the late afternoon, when the sun is behind them and they're headed eastbound. Nice planning, folks.

    Oh, and about the skin.. it's badly wrinkled, due to "unforeseen" issues with thermal expansion and contraction. Basically, the building looks like a crushed aluminum take-out box, about to litter itself into the Mississippi river.

    • by muellerr1 (868578)
      I always thought it looked like a baked potato wrapped in aluminum foil. Speaking of hideous Minneapolis buildings, does anyone else think the new Walker Art Center building [captureweb.co.uk] looks like the head of a giant evil Transformer?
    • Same basic idea in Seattle, with the EMP building. Looks like the remains of a large-scale industrial accident at the Boeing plant.

      At some point, you'd think people would point at Gehry and ask why he's walking around naked.
    • by gad_zuki! (70830)
      Why blame Gehry? Its no uglier than his other buildings and anytime you deal with creative architecture you're going to have some unique issues. How about blaming the administrators and politicians who take your hard earned tax money and throw it to a vanity architect? Gehry is an easy target, but he's the wrong target.
    • Oh, and about the skin.. it's badly wrinkled, due to "unforeseen" issues with thermal expansion and contraction.
      Hey, don't be so harsh. Aluminium's tricky stuff. Even spelling it's an effort! And who could have known that Minneapolis has temperature variations - after all, cold and really cold are both cold, aren't they?
    • Where Gehry's building houses Paul Allen's Experience Music Project and Science Fiction museum. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experience_Music_Project [wikipedia.org]

      The pictures here don't show the true horror. The television news reporters across the street refer to this building as "the technicolor hemorrhoid."

  • He designed this mess as well on the U of MN Campus [umn.edu] trust me the pictures on the site can't convey the eyesore that is that building. Here is one of the breathless quotes from its site:

    "The building is a wild jumble of angular shapes, covered in shimmering brushed stainless steel - sure to brighten up those long, gray northern winters."
    Newsweek, September 20, 1993

    Sorry brushed stainless steel is not going to help our gray winters
    It sits on the bank of the Mississippi and we always wanted to build a stea

  • by InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:50AM (#21266771)
    From the article: "Snow and ice cascaded dangerously from window boxes and other projecting roof areas, blocking emergency exits and damaging other parts of the building, according to the suit."

    This exact same problem is encountered every year at Gehry's Peter B Louis Building on the CWRU campus. We call the building the metal kleenex box, because it looks like a wavy brick building with a lot of useless big metal waves coming out in every direction from the top. The problem is that in the winter, these metal waves get covered in snow, which inevitably slides off onto the people below (Gehry strategically placed the largest such avalanche directly above one of the two main sidewalks on that corner).
  • Gehry (Score:4, Informative)

    by EveryNickIsTaken (1054794) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @09:50AM (#21266773)
    I work for a fortune 500 luxury goods company that recently had Gehry design *jewelry*, of all things. Let's just say that the line is on the verge of being cancelled due to poor sales - many of the items are already discontinued. Sure, the stuff is interesting to look at, but much of it is impractical to wear. I'm not at all surprised that the guy's designed a building that's practically falling apart.
  • I agree that the school should realized what they were getting into when they agreed to this design. But then it's also the responsibility of the architect to make the client aware of potential problems and do what they can in the design to avoid these problems. I suppose architect's lawyers should have put a clause in their contract absolving them from responsibility for any problems arising from this unconventional design.

    However, the question is whether the problems arose from the design itself or from
  • Didn't Ellsworth Toohey sue Howard Roark? For designing a temple that did not look like a temple or what?
  • Hmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kitsunewarlock (971818) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @10:22AM (#21267237) Journal
    "Gehry is my favorite sculptor" is a phrase I love to use with my teachers. Its not that eccentric designs aren't fun and should be abolished. Its that when you use a design like this that, if this building is like the Disney concert hall at all, doesn't actually USE any of the unique curves and forms as anything more than a facade, its pointless. The buildings of Gehry I've seen are basically boxes with really really neat facades. Ugly and sometimes blinding facades; but not "accomplished" facades.

    I'm seeing a lot of posts like "hire civil engineers to make your building" or "I want a building that works, not some pretty thing". Please note first of all that you'd probably want a structural engineer. And probably wind up with a box similiar to a hospital (90% of which is designed by structural engineers). You'd probably also wind up with a box with problems like doors opening over toilets and drawers in bathrooms, shelves for various applications in labs and kitchens being spaced in a way as to not be as convenient as you'd first like them, a more expensive house as HVAC is either not minimized or not as efficiently used or as the lighting uses no outside sources...I'm not saying structural engineers break any laws; they just usually design quickly and to the code, ignoring the needs of the inhabitants which takes a trained eye and education as a designer to properly see these minute details.

    Yes, architects design. Sometimes their designs fail. But they know when they take up the pencil (or, most likely, CAD) that they are most likely to get sued or, worst of all for a designer, people will die AND they'll get sued, if they don't do their job properly.

    Finally, I agree that sculpture buildings, while pretty, are best left to case studies and studio designs in Grad schools. There's a reason minimalism, modernism and post-modernism is so popular with modern architects. But this doesn't mean that your building would be "better" if it was just designed by a structural engineer. And this doesn't mean all architect's design like Gehry, who is considered a bit of a joke in the architecture world to be honest (at least among my professors).
    • Re:Hmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Smidge204 (605297) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @12:06PM (#21268883) Journal
      Being a commercial MEP engineer, it's tough to decide which post to reply to... but I had the strongest feeligns abotu this one.

      Of course, "engineering" is a pretty broad dicipline. There are many specific types of engineers: Civil work mostly with the people and environment - making them the obvious choice for building design since they WILL take into account the "people factor" in their design.

      Then there's structural, who will be more concerned that the building will stay standing. I would not designate a structural engineer to design the overall layout since it is outside of their specialty. (Not to say they are incapable, but part of engineering ethic is to not deliberately take on tasks you're not actually aquainted with)

      As an MEP (Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing - or simply Mechanical) engineer, my "specialty" is pipes, ducts and wires. My concern is the physical comfort and utility of the space: Temperature and humidity, lighting, noise (from my equipment), power and data systems, life safety systems. I would not consider myself to actually be qualified to design an entire building, but like other engineers I have an eye for the practical. I frequently find myself fighting with the architects for space to place equipment and rum pipe/conduit, and I DO consider aestetics in that process. I don't want the building to look like crap either...

      Fact is, though, than an architect is generally not trained in any of the concerns that engineers are. Nearly every one of the 80-something job I've seen in the past ten years have had some very drain-dead design elements. These are not even radical designs, either... I'd give examples but I don't want to get carried away right now, but the bulk of them involve not accounting for climate, weather, actual use of the space and behavioral patterns, or constructability.

      There's a reason why an Engineer can put his seal on an architectural drawing, but an architect can not put his seal on an engineering drawing.
      =Smidge=
  • by Aerion (705544) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @11:37AM (#21268389)
    As an occupant of the building, I have to say that it's not really buggy at all. There are very few bugs, in fact. The bigger problem is with the fucking mice. The building is so full of holes that mice (and pigeons, sometimes!) wander in.
  • by RenderSeven (938535) on Wednesday November 07, 2007 @03:50PM (#21272347)
    Has anyone actually been in it? Probably not many of you that are slamming it. When all I saw was the photo's of the outside, I just laughed. Pretentious crap I thought. But I go there every month or two now for MIT functions, and the place is pretty neat inside. Its interesting, its fun, its surprising, and best of all it always makes you think. "How the hell did they build that?", "Is that an inside wall or outside wall?", "What do you call that shape?", or, like everyone else, "Can I find my way back from the men's room if I have another martini?" You can look at something 20 feet away and have no idea how to get there.

    Flaws aside, I really enjoy going there, and for no other reason than its a fun building. If you cant have fun with a building at MIT than where else? If a cube farm at Lockheed is your idea if Utopia, then hey, the Stata Center isnt your kind of place. Then again if you think New York City streets are great because they're so practical and symmetrical, then Boston streets will have you gnawing on your own nose after a few hours. Maybe the Stata Center reflects the city its in just fine.

    And as for MIT 'deciding' on it, I'm pretty sure Ray Stata had something to say about what kind of building they built with his money in his name. Ray usually has some pretty strong sentiments about stuff. And seeing as one of his wafer fabs is half a block from there Im guessing he was pretty active in the planning stages.

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