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News Highlights of the Week: November 3 – November 9, 2007

November 9, 2007

by James Murdock

Editor’s note: You may read the news digest below or listen to it, plus other news headlines from ArchitecturalRecord.com, as a podcast by clicking this link.

Click the play button to begin | Click here to download

Frank Gehry has been slapped with a lawsuit by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which all alleges that the super-starchitect’s Stata Center is riddled with leaks, The Boston Globe reported on November 6. The negligence suit names both Gehry Partners and general contractor Skanska, alleging that they violated contracts and are responsible for design and construction failures. The 400,000-square-foot Stata Center was completed in 2004 at a cost of $300 million. It features roofs and facade planes that intersect at jaunty angles, leading Globe critic Robert Campbell to remark that “it looks like something out of a Disney cartoon.” MIT claims that an outdoor amphitheater suffered drainage problems and cracking, requiring a costly rebuild; that mold plagues the exterior; and that snow and ice cascade from the roof, blocking emergency exits. Skanska blamed Gehry for ignoring warnings that certain problems might develop. But in an interview published on November 7 by The New York Times, Gehry said that in such a “complicated” building with so many pieces “the chances of it getting done ever without something colliding or some misstep are small.” The Globe’s Campbell seemed to share this view: “You know if you hire Frank Gehry there are going to be new kinds of problems.” At least one of Gehry’s other clients is sticking by him. Matthew Teitelbaum, director and CEO of the Art Gallery of Ontario, told Canada’s Globe & Mail on November 7 that his new Gehry building—due to be completed at cost of $255 million next year—will be “impermeable.”

HOK Sport’s design for the London 2012 Olympic Stadium was unveiled this week and met with immediate and widespread disapproval. As Jonathan Glancey wrote in the U.K.’s Observer on November 8, “If you like your Olympic stadiums like Beijing’s next year... or like Athens’s in 2004, ... then the London stadium is unlikely to be your cup of green tea, much less your shot of ouzo.” In other words, London’s arena is no flashy showpiece—but that was its creators’ intention. Despite a $1 billion price tag, twice that of Beijing’s stadium, the 80,000-seat facility takes a simple bowl shape. Its concrete frame will be draped in printed plastic sheets, to form exterior walls, while prefabricated restrooms and other service elements will occupy its interior. Following a much touted “sustainable” strategy, the building will be dismantled after the Olympics and reassembled, in smaller form, elsewhere for other uses. But as commentators noted, exactly where and what uses remain undetermined—a dubiously sustainable legacy that reminds many Britons of their last white elephant, Richard Rogers’ Millennium Dome, which took seven years to find another use. The loudest criticisms of the stadium, though, are about its architecture. Writing in Building Design on November 7, Amanda Baillieu noted that the influence of former Archigram member Peter Cook, who collaborated with HOK on the design, appears “non-existent”—and of the building she lamented, “does it have to look so cheap?” In the U.K.’s Times that same day, Tom Dyckhoff wrote that “the main stadium is meant to be the showstopping jewel in the Olympics’ crown, not something from Ikea fit for a garden party.”

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As many as 40,000 construction workers in the United Arab Emirates remained on strike this week, halting several projects and slowing work in Dubai on the world’s tallest building, the Burj Dubai, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The Associated Press reported on November 7 that strikers are protesting unsafe conditions and unfair wages; they are seeking a monthly raise of $55 in a region where skilled workers are paid $165 a month and unskilled laborers just $109. Although the Agence France-Presse listed the number of striking workers as less, it wrote on November 8 that laborers began putting down their tools two weeks ago, despite laws against striking and the absence of unions. As RECORD reported in July, this is not the first such action in the Emirates, where most construction workers are Southeast Asian immigrants. But the current protest appears to be having an effect: “The Emirates’ undersecretary of labor, Humaid bin Deemas, was quoted... as saying that a ‘study will be prepared in the next few days’ to ensure workers’ rights and protect the interests of companies,” according to the Associated Press.

House & Garden is ceasing publication after 106 years—and this time it looks like publisher Condé Nast really means it. The upscale shelter magazine suspended operations between 1993 and 1996 but never quite regained its financial footing afterward. The New York Times reported on November 6 that its death knell finally came when publisher Joseph Lagani abruptly left in October to join the new online channel GlamLiving. According to the Times, “His departure forced a reassessment of House & Garden’s prospects, ‘after a decade of trying, without a clear sense of how one gets into the black,’ said Charles H. Townsend, president and chief executive of Condé Nast. ‘Replacing somebody like that is not only not easy; it has associated with it a significant commitment, at least 36 months.’” Although House & Garden boasted better circulation and a higher number of advertising pages than many outside competitors—and the housing market slump only cast a “vague shadow” on its prospects—it faced competition within Condé Nast from Architectural Digest, Domino, and Vogue Living. December will be the magazine’s last issue, MediaWeek reported on November 5, and a spokesperson said that “efforts would be made to place H&G staffers elsewhere at Condé Nast.” The magazine employs roughly 80 people.

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