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Viñoly Sued Over Kimmel Center's Alleged Design Flaws

On a Friday night in December 2001, Philadelphians gathered to celebrate the opening of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, the new home for its beloved Philadelphia Orchestra. But four years after the opening, the center is struggling to remain afloat beneath the burden of a $30 million bank loan debt; $23 million from construction overruns and $7 million from funding shortfalls.

To help alleviate the issue, the Philadelphia Regional Performing Arts Center, which manages the Kimmel, is suing the building’s architect, New York-based Rafael Viñoly Architects (RVA), over what it alleges—in its 28-page complaint filed on 23 November 2005 in Philadelphia’s United States District Court offices—are costs resulting from “deficient and defective design work” at its hands.

The complaint concludes that "most, if not all, of the cost overruns" were "the result of [Rafael Viñoly Architects'] performance on the project." It states “the construction cost $ 180 million, which was significantly more than the $ 157 million originally budgeted for construction.”

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Costs shot up, the document says, when steel erection was delayed by 16 months. threatening the center’s long-planned opening. The shorted time-frame prompted overtime filings from workers, and costly charges for expedited manufacturing services.

The document alleges that documents were late, inaccurate, and incomplete, that design work was inadequate, and that equipment underperformed, and required repair or replacement. The complaint states that RVA broke its contractual promise to correct—at no cost to the Kimmel—any defects in design or in specification.

Because the case is still pending, neither party would comment directly on the matter. Viñoly’s office released a statement saying that it was “extremely disappointed” by the by the complaint, adding that, “The same people who praised the building are now criticizing it. We feel the claim is unsubstantiated.”

The 425,000 square-foot glass barrel-vaulted performing arts center, which contains three theaters, is located on Broad Street in Center City Philadelphia. Today, the center—which has spearheaded a transformation of Philadelphia’s cultural life and civic identity—struggles to pay the $2 million annual bank loan fee servicing the $30 million debt from construction overruns and from falling short of fundraising goals. A December 14 story in the Philadelphia Inquirer noted that this debt is compromising the center’s ability to amass an endowment and develop top-level programming.

The case goes to trial on January 28 2006, and comes after the Kimmel’s 30-month effort to resolve the matter with RVA failed (an effort it charges in the complaint that the firm stalled through its delays in attempting to find counsel). The suit could open up many issues about an architect’s financial and legal accountability for construction overruns.

 

Joseph Dennis Kelly II

 

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