MIT Sues Gehry Firm Over Stata Problems

Lawsuit Describes Persistent Leaks, Sliding Ice and Snow, and Cracking Masonry

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MIT sued architect Frank O. Gehry and Skanska USA Building Inc. on Oct. 31 for “design and construction failures” in the Ray and Maria Stata Center (pictured).
Ricardo Ramirez—The Tech

MIT has filed a lawsuit against Frank O. Gehry, the architect of the Ray and Maria Stata Center, and Skanska USA Building Inc., the construction company that built the Stata Center. MIT alleges that Gehry was negligent in designing the building and that both Gehry and Skanska breached their contractual obligations.

In the lawsuit, which was filed on Oct. 31, MIT specifically cited “design and construction failures” on the Stata Center project which resulted in “masonry cracking” and “poor drainage” at the outdoor amphitheater, “persistent leaks,” “sliding ice and snow from the building,” and “mold growth.” MIT spokesperson Pamela Dumas Serfes declined to comment, saying that MIT policy kept her from commenting on pending litigation.

The $300 million Stata Center opened more than three years ago in spring 2004. MIT paid Gehry’s Los Angeles-based firm $15 million to design the building.

A copy of the lawsuit can be found at

The suit says that as early as late summer 2004, it was discovered that “considerable masonry cracking existed in the Amphitheater’s seating areas … caused by an improper amount and spacing of control joints in the brick masonry” and that the drainage design was flawed in that it “failed to include a drainage mat under the brick.”

According to the suit, MIT paid more than $1.5 million to repair the amphitheater.

The suit reflects a dispute over which party, Gehry or Skanska, is primarily at fault for the amphitheater’s drainage problems. In the lawsuit, the charges against Skanska are phrased conditionally. It states, “If, as claimed by Gehry, the failure of the Amphitheater is due in whole or in part to the act or omission of Skanska or its applicable subcontractors, then Skanska must indemnify MIT from all loss or damages resulting therefrom.”

In response to the suit, Paul Hewins, executive vice president and area general manager of Skanska, said to the Boston Globe, “This is not a construction issue, never has been.” He added, “We worked hard to work with MIT to bring this to resolution … but it was a design issue.”

Hewins told the Globe that Skanska reported the amphitheater’s design was flawed, but that Gehry ignored Skanska’s recommendation to change the design. Hewins did not return a call from The Tech yesterday.

In an interview with The New York Times, Gehry said, “A building goes together with seven billion pieces of connective tissue. The chances of it getting done ever without something colliding or some misstep are small.”

“I think the issues are fairly minor,” Gehry said to the Times. “MIT is after our insurance.” He added that “value engineering,” trimming design elements to cut costs, was the primary cause of the problems. A representative from Gehry’s firm said they had not yet released a statement and declined to comment to The Tech.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that other universities with Gehry buildings — Bard College and the University of Cincinnati — did not have problems with their buildings. Bard President Leon Botstein told the Chronicle that the building “came in on budget and has worked beautifully.”

Former Boston University President John Silber, an outspoken critic of the Stata Center, said to the Globe, Gehry “thinks of himself as an artist, as a sculptor. But the trouble is you don’t live in a sculpture and users have to live in this building.”

Gehry told the Times that he had received support from professors and others the building was designed for. They are “sending me e-mails dumbfounded that their institution is doing this,” Gehry said.

“I find the Stata Center to be a spectacular place in which to work with the constant interplay of light and open spaces,” said MIT Robotics Professor Rodney Brooks to The Tech in an e-mail. Brooks, whose office is in the Stata Center’s Gates Tower, disagrees with Silber’s criticism of the sculptural quality of Gehry’s work. He said he enjoys working in Stata because of “the visibility of the sculpture of the building itself from almost every sight line.”

Brooks also said that he and “a number of other faculty worked closely with Frank Gehry during the design and construction phases of the Stata Center.” He said that he feels Stata “embodies the experimental nature of life at MIT,” citing several examples of how digital technology was used in the project. “Genetic algorithms were used to both tweak the mathematical curved forms of exterior surfaces and solve for a covering using standard sized rectangular pieces of metal,” Brooks said in the e-mail.

Gehry, a world-renowned American architect, is well-known for such buildings as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, and the Peter B. Lewis building in Cleveland. Skanska has constructed buildings for many universities, including Baker Library and MacArthur Hall at Harvard University.