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Gehry/MIT Throwdown
November 6, 2007 12:30 PM   Subscribe

The Stata Center for Computer, Information and Intelligence Sciences, a provocatively designed building on the campus of MIT by "starchitect" Frank Gehry, is falling apart. MIT is suing for negligence.
posted by billysumday (60 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
I"m sorry, but I've yet to see a Gehry building that wasn't needlessly "whimsical" looking. Every building seems to not have anything to do with what's actually going on in the building. That the nuts-and-bolts architecture of one of the buildings is crap, is far from a surprise.
posted by notsnot at 12:59 PM on November 6, 2007


MIT has a track record (at least in my personal experience) of using lawsuits as a negotiating tool, regardless of the validity of their claims. My guess is Gehry Partners is in the right here...
posted by cosmac at 1:03 PM on November 6, 2007


I thought it was bad enough hearing from students, staff, and faculty about how impractical the building was on the inside (difficult hanging things like whiteboards on the odd walls, unusable space created by acute corners, etc..), but now hearing it is failing at one of the basest features of a building is just priceless...

Every time I drive past this building it just strikes of a huge ego trip on the part of both MIT and Gehry.
posted by grahams at 1:04 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


I hadn't ever seen that building before, but I am in love with it. It looks like something out of Calagari and I want to live in it. Or work in it. Or play in it. The fact that it's a computer/info/intelligence science building on top of it all just makes me whimper.
posted by Brainy at 1:04 PM on November 6, 2007


Form over function.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:17 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yeah, they had to rip out Gehry's pathetic outdoor "amphitheatre" this past summer. That's ok because it barely got any sunlight anyway making it a rotten place to sit down in from October to May. The inside is just as disfunctional with its raw plywood benches and clunky chairs and tables. The whole place just looks cheap and half-assed.
posted by otio at 1:19 PM on November 6, 2007


One of the reflective steel sides of Gehry's Disney Hall in Los Angeles caused the temperature in apartments across the street to increase by 15F.
posted by phaedon at 1:25 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Frank Gehry designed the building for the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, and thanks to the steeply sloped metal roof and the excessive cold and snow in Cleveland during the winter, every winter the school has to put a barricade around the building to protect passers-by from getting hit with the sheets of ice that slide off the building. I wonder if this suit will inspire CWRU to sue, as well.

Now I live in Princeton, where a new Gehry eyesore is on its way to being built and spoiling the scenery.
posted by amro at 1:26 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Form over function indeed. Don't hire an artist to do an engineer's work.
posted by phrontist at 1:27 PM on November 6, 2007


I couldn't find it in English, but this sums up what I think of much of Gehry's work.
posted by JBennett at 1:27 PM on November 6, 2007


And I've just realized that the same guy (Peter B. Lewis of Progressive) who paid for the Gehry building in Cleveland (and put his name in giant letters on it) is also paying for the Gehry building in Princeton. Somebody stop that dude.
posted by amro at 1:30 PM on November 6, 2007


God I hate Gehry. Here in Chicago we were lucky to get the Pritzker Pavillion, which I feel is his best piece. It actually fits its environment, doesn't let form hinder function, evokes the music it is meant to house and is quite beautiful. I'm not generally given to absolutes, but everything else he has ever designed accomplishes few, if not none, of these things. What an egoist.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 1:34 PM on November 6, 2007


Having read Stewart Brand's critique of earlier MIT architectural experiments in his excellent How Buildings Learn [link goes to excerpt] I feel deliciously smug right now.

Still a crazy, awesome looking building though. Look, all we're going to do is divide into two camps here and yell at each other, so let's figure out something more meaningful to do.

I mean, maybe there could be a school of whimsical, wacky architecture that was capable of modeling the building's interaction with weather and nature. A synthesis of postmodernist thought that didn't willfully ignore stuff like nature, and gravity.

Lazyweb: create this new school of thought for me.
posted by mecran01 at 1:34 PM on November 6, 2007


...using lawsuits as a negotiating tool, regardless of the validity of their claims. My guess is Gehry Partners is in the right here...
"An executive at Skanska's Boston office yesterday blamed Gehry for problems with the project and said Gehry ignored warnings from Skanska and a consulting company prior to construction that there were flaws in his design of the amphitheater.

'This is not a construction issue, never has been,' said Paul Hewins, executive vice president and area general manager of Skanska USA. He said Gehry rejected Skanska's formal request to create a design that included soft joints and a drainage system in the amphitheater, and 'we were told to proceed with the original design.'

After the amphitheater began cracking and flooding, Skanska spent 'a few hundred thousand dollars' trying to resolve the problems, but, he said, 'it was difficult to make the original design work.'

...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.'"
posted by ericb at 1:37 PM on November 6, 2007


Gehry is a hack with his head in the clouds or some dark, orifice. Someone should take away his license to practice architecture. Sure he makes pretty, sculptural designs, but the hallmark of a genius is making pretty, sculptural designs that work.
posted by JJ86 at 1:40 PM on November 6, 2007


The documentary Sketches of Frank Gehry -- film trailer.
posted by ericb at 1:41 PM on November 6, 2007


I bet Skanska is secretly enjoying the hell out of this.
posted by aramaic at 1:44 PM on November 6, 2007


He said Gehry rejected Skanska's formal request to create a design that included soft joints and a drainage system in the amphitheater

If true, that's a damning statement. Draining and expansion handling is fundamental to building design, esp. in a city that experiences the weather extremes that Cambridge does.
posted by eriko at 1:49 PM on November 6, 2007


Sure he makes pretty, sculptural designs, but the hallmark of a genius is making pretty, sculptural designs that work.

Tell that to Frank.
posted by phaedon at 1:52 PM on November 6, 2007


This is the building the linguistics dept, including Noam Chomsky, moved into. I guess its "deep structure" needs modification and it lacked innate intelligence.
posted by cogneuro at 1:54 PM on November 6, 2007 [3 favorites]


a crazy, awesome looking building

Believe me, it wows the kids and their parents on the campus tours but a good building should get better the more you explore it and use it. With Stata it's all downhill after that juvenile "ooh, awesome!" reaction.

Completed a year later than Stata, the McGovern Institute just around the corner has the measure of dignity and grandeur Gehry's building lacks completely. It looks like a place where work gets done (from the outside, at least, I've never had occasion to poke around inside).
posted by otio at 1:56 PM on November 6, 2007


If this cuts Gehry's business by half, it's worth it. I think there are more architects in the world that need a crack at these kinds of projects.

I also want the Rolling Stones to retire.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 2:05 PM on November 6, 2007


Attaboy, Frank. You've finally joined your old pal Peter Eisenman from the '88 MOMA "deconstructivist" show in the Hall of Huckster Shame. Just as soon as Libeskind's chintzy addition to the Royal Ontario Museum starts to leak, the deconstruction will be finished and the ultimate triumph of MOMA-feted form over function will be complete, and we can all get back to designing buildings as if people had to use them for something other than storage lockers for their rube-like gullibility.
posted by gompa at 2:17 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


I also want the Rolling Stones to retire.

Just saw the trailer for Shine a Light -- Martin Scorsese's upcoming documentary on the Stones.
posted by ericb at 2:22 PM on November 6, 2007


For a good Gehry dis-fest check out Design and Crime by Hal Foster. I picked it up because he was the only dissenter in the otherwise pro-Gehry propaganda piece that was Sketches of Frank Gehry. Actually, the Julian Schnabel footage in it is totally priceless. Check it out.
posted by mike_bling at 2:25 PM on November 6, 2007


A builder, a dreamer is starchitect Gehry.
Reviver of downtowns, his structures marry
Curious cladding, e.g. titanium,
Crazy CAD-ing: "That hurts my cranium!"
(His workbench must hide a decanter of sherry.)
posted by rob511 at 2:29 PM on November 6, 2007 [4 favorites]


Others in Boston who aren't too happy these days.

Towering Assessments Leave Condo Owners in I.M. Pei's Harbor Towers Divided
"It's the condo owners' nightmare: The building's heating and cooling system needs an overhaul, so everybody must pay a huge one-time assessment.

But the 500-plus owners at Harbor Towers on Boston's waterfront are facing the mother of all bills: from $70,000 to over $400,000. And they're due by the end of this month. In full.

The owners are reeling from the news, delivered in August, that collectively they owe $75.6 million for replacing much of the buildings' main systems..."
posted by ericb at 2:43 PM on November 6, 2007


I never went inside, but I did like the building from the outside. It's an opportunity to breathe on a campus which architecturally otherwise looks like the nerve center for the military industrial complex.

I'm neutral on Gehry overall, but as a few others implied, he's disgustingly overused. Oh look, another amorphous metal-clad museum! How edgy!
posted by MillMan at 3:15 PM on November 6, 2007


The glorified storage unit called The Experience Music Project / Sci Fi Museum in Seattle is the perfect storm of hubris and ego cloaked in the Emperors New Clothes.

You had Gehry, whose haphazardly sketched designs on a soiled cocktail napkin provided the pathetic vision, and the limitless funds of the tasteless geek Paul Alan all combined into a traffic accident of steel and glass. It's horrible and useless.
posted by tkchrist at 3:33 PM on November 6, 2007


I was just going to mention the disgusting blob called the EMP. I've coughed up better architecture.

Here's an aerial view for those who don't believe us.
posted by rouftop at 3:53 PM on November 6, 2007


I was going to tear into Mr Goldberg, but apparantly everyone here beat me to it.

He reminds me of Dogbert the designer in Dilbert. About the time Lucent aquired their smeared-circle logo, Dogbert was hired to produce a logo. He plunked a coffee cup onto a sheet of paper, and presented the rim-stain as the new logo.

I always imagined Goldberg, on receiving a new commission, taking a sheet of paper, crumpling it up, dropping it on a table, and announcing "There's your new Art Center/Office Complex/Whatever!"

But when an engineering school hires an engineering nitwit who creates an engineering disaster, it is impossible to justly apportion blame or be unamused.
posted by hexatron at 3:54 PM on November 6, 2007


It hurts to look at. It looks like it's trying to maim me. The awfulness of that building will stalk me through my dreams.
posted by baphomet at 3:54 PM on November 6, 2007


I just looked at the Simpson's clip referenced above. So grate mines stink alot. I always thot so.
posted by hexatron at 4:03 PM on November 6, 2007


And I've just realized that the same guy (Peter B. Lewis of Progressive) who paid for the Gehry building in Cleveland (and put his name in giant letters on it) is also paying for the Gehry building in Princeton. Somebody stop that dude.

Have you ever looked at a Frank Gehry building... on weed?
posted by box at 4:06 PM on November 6, 2007


Dear god, look at the 'preliminary sketches' on the Gehry partners website. It's like... PigPen's rotting, dismembered corpse.
posted by stavrogin at 4:06 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's days like this I turn to the Calatrava-designed MAM and smile.
posted by drezdn at 4:38 PM on November 6, 2007


It was definitely entertaining during construction and shortly after completion.

One of the best things about this building is that, if you hang out on one of the corners in view of the building, in short order, you will inevitably hear someone utter, "that building's fahkin' rihtahded". Seriously.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 4:48 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Nthing the Gehry hate.
posted by DU at 5:13 PM on November 6, 2007


My favorite critique of the Stata Center. (It's well worth reading the entire series - Kunstler is extremely funny.)
posted by longdaysjourney at 5:16 PM on November 6, 2007


Terminal Verbosity : Here in Chicago we were lucky to get the Pritzker Pavillion, which I feel is his best piece.

Heh, I just drove by that a couple of weeks ago, I nudged the wife and pointed as we were coming up on it, and said "Oh no! it looks like someone crashed a Firefly class."

Then we laughed, because we are nerds.
posted by quin at 5:29 PM on November 6, 2007


Not to go off on a tangent here, but the butt-ugliest building on the Berkeley campus by a long margin is the architecture school. I wonder how many youngsters read The Fountainhead, wanted to grow up to be romantic architects, and found themselves inside the architecture school there having a Nietzschean revaluation of values crisis.
posted by bukvich at 5:37 PM on November 6, 2007


Can I say I miss the ramshackle old WWII temporary labs of Building 20 that got ripped down for this. God bless that creaky old building that should have never lasted 10 years, let alone 55.

I loathe Geary's work. It really is the worst of form beating function and for an engineering school to go along with it is silly. They didn't want the Harvard bridge, but they took this? (And yeah, I know that story's a fake, but it's built into the tradition, legend and fabric of the school)
posted by drewbage1847 at 6:02 PM on November 6, 2007


I was expecting to see a building that looked like a mammoth stainless steel vulva but instead it looks like the builder can't build a straight wall. What's with all the crazy odd angle walls? No wonder MIT is suing.
posted by disgruntled at 6:15 PM on November 6, 2007


I don't follow architecture all that much (or at all,) but whenever I come across one of Gehry's pieces, they always strike me as obnoxious—something that would be better suited for Disneyland than for a skyline.

Oddly enough, I pass by the Anaheim ICE building a lot, which he did do for Disney, and I always liked that building much more than the rest of what I've seen of his.
posted by Weebot at 6:47 PM on November 6, 2007


A bit of news about previous art that may have inspired Gehry.
posted by sebastienbailard at 6:53 PM on November 6, 2007


Gehry should Roark the shit out of it.
posted by Eideteker at 6:56 PM on November 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Gehry's Plan for Brooklyn
posted by eddydamascene at 9:07 PM on November 6, 2007


I sort of like how it looks from the outside, but the ground floor is one big echo-ey mess. Lots of nice open areas, but the acoustics are terrible. And it's hard to find your way around, too.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 9:14 PM on November 6, 2007


Form over function indeed. Hideous.

Still, it's not as bad as Government Center, which sort of went in the other direction so far that it went around the bend and came back again. It actually tries so hard to not be beautiful that it's actually pretentious in its ugliness.

It's the only building I've ever encountered that makes me want to immediately fly to Afghanistan and join a terrorist camp, just so that I could possibly have a shot at plowing an airliner into it. It's that bad. (And when you realize that they demolished a few hundred historic structures to build it, you just want to sit down and cry.)

So, congratulations to the Boston metro area, for exemplifying that architecture can be uniquely terrible on both extremes of the whimsical/brutalist spectrum.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:15 PM on November 6, 2007


On a related note, the roof of Daniel Libeskind's prickly, titanium-skinned, +$90 million Hamilton Extension to the Denver Art Museum started leaking during its first winter. Repairs couldn't begin until Spring 2006.

We went in January 2006 and there were areas roped off with buckets catching the drips. At first, I thought it was a water feature...
posted by cenoxo at 9:28 PM on November 6, 2007


...until Spring 2007.
...in January 2007...
posted by cenoxo at 9:39 PM on November 6, 2007


Well, say what you want about the Disney Concert Hall in L.A., but on the inside it is amazing--like sitting inside of a cello, all wood, beautiful, clear acoustics, and not a bad seat in the house.

(Of course, the inside was designed in collaboration with Yasuhisa Toyota; interesting Q&A here.)
posted by LooseFilter at 9:48 PM on November 6, 2007


Gehry's Plan for Brooklyn

Is it that Gehry thinks actually waving his dick in his clients' faces would be too rude, or is it that he finds it more aesthetically satisfying to do it via the metaphor of his I-just-farted-this-out-between-the-cheese-course-and-dessert "sketches"?
posted by gompa at 9:55 PM on November 6, 2007


Can I say I miss the ramshackle old WWII ( massively asbestos laden ? ) temporary labs of Building 20 that got ripped down for this. Me too, but more because I knew a couple old engineers that worked there back in the old days of MIT.
posted by R. Mutt at 4:31 AM on November 7, 2007


I was one of the first occupants of the Stata center, though I've since left the area. I never really had a problem with it, myself, but I am easy to please in this respect, and others had numerous complaints about the design right from the start. There were serious leaks pretty much immediately. The windows are all eccentrically shaped, and required ludicrously expensive custom-cut panes. The most apparently intractable issue that I recall is that some graduate students found the "open plan" design disruptive to their research because it put them in a huge, often noisy space. The other serious issue was that the nonstandard construction led to schedule slips which truly ran right down to the wire. I don't remember the precise dates, but as I recall the Computer Science department moved out of their old location with less than a week to spare before it was due to be gutted for remodeling by the new occupants. There was still unfinished concrete with builders' ad hoc annotations on it in my office, when I moved in. (In fact, those may have still been there when I left.)

I always liked this Onion headline about Gehry.

I'm surprised to see that people regard MIT as litigious. My impression in the nineties was that they just rolled over on some cases which were very expensive for them. But I've long since stopped paying attention, so they may have changed their stance. After the Elizabeth Shin case, which despite the tragic circumstances really seemed meritless to me, I began to wonder if MIT was developing a reputation as an easy touch.

These days, I work at Janelia Farm, in another nonstandard building designed by Rafael Viñoly. It does seem more thoughtfully laid out than the Stata center. But it's also possible that it had a more generous budget.
posted by Coventry at 4:49 AM on November 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's an opportunity to breathe on a campus which architecturally otherwise looks like the nerve center for the military industrial complex.

What the hell does that mean?

Gehry is indeed a self proclaimed god - unfortunately a prevailing attitude in architecture. He is irresponsible to the planet and to the whole utility aspect of architecture. Not to mention it doesn't play well with its neighbors and other design components that also make buildings useful, like furniture.

As mentioned in the article, is that buildings are for humans to use. Period. Otherwise, it is indeed sculpture. Having a 20 year background within architectural design and subsequently facilities and space planning, I can say that the efficiency of both space use and long term budgets for maintenance are largely ignored in the design process. The resulting structures are extremely costly to heat/cool, furnish, maintain for the life of the building.

I'd bet that anyone on the facilities staff at any of Gehry's projects could readily name dozens of problems with using them, including leaks, replacing damaged facade skins, cleaning, and climate control. I'd also bet the arrangement of furniture in that MIT building is a challenge to say the least.

It's the very stuff we don't see or notice immediately that affects us humans the most in architecture: vertical space, color, temperature, VOC's, movement. Design schools would be wise to incorporate consideration of the invisible into the process.

Maybe the good thing to come from this case is that it highlights function and brings it back to the correct proportion to form.
posted by yoga at 4:50 AM on November 7, 2007


You know when you're dreaming, and you walk down a corridor that suddenly ends for no reason, or a room is sort of just there, without any useful connection to anything? Stata's like that. Every space is unique, and configured seemingly at random.

As for Harbor Towers, they were built in 1971, and have always been the place where privileged Yuppies live. It's not surprising that the 35-year-old heating system needs replacement, and it's not going to generate a lot of sympathy that the Yuppies have to pay through the nose for it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:40 AM on November 7, 2007


There is an auditorium inside the Stata Center which makes 50% of those who enter it ridiculously dizzy. It's hard to explain, but it has lots of funny angles and is extremely vertigo-inducing. It makes a good party trick on tours.

The biggest complaint I've heard from my friends who work there is that the building leaks and leaks and leaks some more. This was a known flaw with the design from day one.
posted by bobot at 9:01 AM on November 7, 2007


I attend CMU and I have to admit... this kind of makes me happy in the depths of my unpleasant heart.
posted by version control at 9:19 PM on November 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


Frank Gehry Backlash.
posted by ericb at 4:51 PM on November 9, 2007


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