Posts tagged with "Lawsuits":

Placeholder Alt Text

Is the School of Architecture at Taliesin staying open or not?

When the news broke on March 5 that the board of the School of Architecture at Taliesin (SoAT) had voted to keep the school open, it seemed like the 88-year-old institution was getting a reprieve. However, now that the March 10 deadline SoAT had offered the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation to come to the table and negotiate has come and gone, the only path forward could be arbitration. The school and the foundation split in 2017 under Higher Learning Commission regulations and signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to govern the relationship between the two. The current MOU also acts as the school’s de facto lease and is set to expire on July 31, 2020, unless extended. However, in a March 14 memo, the foundation announced that in a final decision, it would let the memorandum expire and provided a list of requirements the school would have to meet as it vacated both Taliesin locations. “The Foundation,” the memo reads, “will return to its own efforts to develop new programs in architect education that advance this legacy, [Wright’s] pedagogical ideas, and the integrity of Taliesin and Taliesin West as architectural campuses.” Whether these new efforts take the form of unaccredited programs, as previously suggested by Stuart Graff, president and CEO of the foundation, or another accredited program, remains to be seen. While the foundation claims that the school acted without its knowledge on its vote to stay open and the foundation’s staff only found out about the school’s decision through media reports, SoAT’s leadership says otherwise. In a March 9 call, Aaron Betsky, the former president of SoAT, and Dan Schweiker, the chairperson of the school’s board of governors, rebutted that assertion, saying the foundation had two representatives on the school’s board and would have been informed of any and all moves the school was going to take. According to both Schweiker and Betsky (who were joined by a representative from Chicago-based law firm Kirkland & Ellis, which is representing the school pro bono), they had secured pledges of support to continue the next semester with six students as well as a line of credit. Additionally, thanks to the outpouring of support the school had received after the news broke, alumni and fellows had pledged additional funds to keep SoAT running. However, the foundation never responded. March 10 passed, and now the only way forward will be, according to the MOU, through a mediator. The school claims that all it wanted was to renew the memorandum for another two years as a runway to adapt and change the school for the times and reevaluate its options, but the foundation refused. Yesterday, in an editorial for Dezeen, Betsky laid out his version of events:
“The school was given two choices: close immediately, or give up its accreditation and continue for one more year while developing programmes with the foundation. However, the school would have to continue paying the foundation's fees while not being able to recruit students, retain those who sought an accredited degree or raise funds. This would have been financially impossible, so the school was forced to take the first option and announce its closure.”
Betsky explained that the foundation ordered the school to close and that SoAT had changed its mind after seeing the outpouring of support from the architectural community and former students. If the foundation and SoAT fail to come to an agreement through mediation, the next step may be arbitration. AN will follow this developing story and update this article accordingly.
Placeholder Alt Text

Dueling lawsuits over Washington, D.C.’s The Wharf dismissed

A 2018 lawsuit filed against Perkins Eastman by the general contractor of The Wharf, a $2.5 billion mixed-use development located along a once-blighted stretch of industrial waterfront in southwest Washington, D.C., has been dismissed. Likewise, a countersuit filed against Clark Construction Group LLC by Perkins Eastman has also been dropped. Clark Construction’s suit against Perkins Eastman, a major international architecture firm headquartered in New York City, was filed in March 2018. It sought $5 million in damages resulting from what Clark Construction alleged were significantly flawed design documents furnished by Perkins Eastman. Because of the alleged inaccuracies and omissions in the documents, which Clark Construction claimed resulted in everything from inoperable doors to misplaced structural columns, the Bethesda, Maryland-based contractor had to tweak and correct numerous defects which, in turn, caused the company to incur substantial financial damages. Phase one of The Wharf was completed and opened to the public in October 2017. “The errors and omissions complained of herein did not arise and were not known, knowable, discovered, discoverable, appreciated, or appreciable until various points within the past three years,” claimed Clark Construction’s complaint, which alleged that Perkins Eastman had committed professional negligence, breach of written contract, and negligent misrepresentation. “It remains possible and likely that errors and omissions will continue to arise and become known, discovered, and appreciated in the future as discovery in this matter proceeds including, without limitation, expert discovery.” Perkins Eastman issued a countersuit, alleging Clark Construction of withholding $500,000 in outstanding invoices in an act that, per the suit, amounted to breach of contract. “Clark continues to exercise dominion and control over money and property that contractually and legally is property of PEDC [Perkins Eastman DC, PLCC] in a manner that is intentional, reckless, and in willful disregard of PEDC’s ownership rights,” read Perkins Eastman’s counterclaim. But as Construction Dive recently reported, the dispute has worked itself out with both sides dropping their respective lawsuits. No financial settlements were noted in the Joint Stipulation of Dismissal, although as Construction Dive notes, both parties agreed to pay their own legal fees. “While we cannot comment on specifics, Clark is pleased to have reached an amicable agreement on all outstanding project matters. We look forward to working together with Perkins Eastman on future projects,” a spokesperson for Clark Construction relayed to Construction Dive in a statement. Speaking to AN, L. Bradford Perkins, founding partner of Perkins Eastman, noted: “We too, like Cark, are pleased to get this behind us.” “We felt that the lawsuits were not the best way to resolve this issue,” Perkins said. “We're both extremely proud of what we did together.” “We both want to work together in the future,” Perkins added. Phase two of The Wharf, also master-planned by Perkins Eastman, kicked off in March 2018 and will add an additional 1.5 million square feet of mixed-use space (heavier on residential this time around) to the sprawling project that, when fully complete in 2022, will encompass more than 24 acres of redeveloped land. Phase one of The Wharf includes, among other things, a pier-top office complex, multiple hotels, retail space, and apartments. The waterfront-reenergizing development has received a mostly warm welcome from Washingtonians and visitors despite some traffic congestion-related hiccups.
Placeholder Alt Text

As trial continues, new Grenfell fire details emerge

In new developments that emerged last week in the public inquiry of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, Bruce Sounes, the architect tasked with overseeing the refurbishment of the 24-story West London apartment tower, revealed that he was unaware that the plastic-filled aluminum composite rain screen cladding used in the project was combustible. Furthermore, Sounes said that he had not fully familiarized himself with existing governmental regulations “demanding external walls must adequately resist the spread of fire,” as The Guardian reported. On June 14, 2017, a small fire sparked in a fourth-floor apartment rapidly engulfed the 43-year-old, council-owned housing block in North Kensington as flames climbed upwards along the tower’s recently refurbished exterior. The fire raged for nearly 60 hours, completely gutting the structure while claiming 72 lives total in the process. Dozens of others suffered injuries. Serious concerns about fire safety had been brought to the attention of the building’s operator, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, both prior to and after the refurbishment, which was completed in 2016. Among these issues: The absence of a central fire alarm system, a dearth of emergency lighting, the presence of long-expired fire extinguishers, and the fact that the aging tower had only one central staircase for all 120 units (127 units at the time of the fire). The first phase of an official public inquiry into the tragic fire kicked off in September 2017, and included key evidence from emergency responders, building residents, engineers, and fire safety experts. The second phase of the inquiry commenced in January 2020, with the first section focused on the 2015-2016 refurbishment. In his testimony, Sounes, an associate architect at London firm Studio E Architects, admitted ignorance to issues such as fire spread and the regulatory guidance surrounding building safety features meant to curb the spread of fire in tall structures. Sounes claimed that ensuring the refurbishment—including specific products used in the refurbishment—exceeded fire safety guidelines was not in his professional purview as lead project architect. He told inquiry counsel that “it was the responsibility of the council’s building control department to check on compliance and other expert consultants were expected to advise,” according to the Guardian. “We asked for advice,” the BBC quoted Sounes as telling the inquiry, “but it wasn't for us to... satisfy ourselves because I don't think that was within our ability.” Sounes also confirmed in the inquiry that he had no previous experience working on high-rise projects or with the type of flammable polyethylene composite cladding material used in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower. “I thought their melting temperature was quite high,” Sounes said of the insulating panels. “I was not aware they were combustible or a risk.” Speaking at the inquiry, Andrzej Kuszell, founding partner of Studio E Architects, said that his firm’s previous lack of experience working with high-rises should not be considered as a factor in the incident. “The issue of whether a project poses new challenges is not, I think—if that is the implication, that somehow we were not capable of doing the project, I think that is false,” Kuszell explained. “Because clearly every project, in your experience, there comes a point when every project is a first, and we had actually been dealing with projects of quite some sophistication and complexity as firsts.” Kuszell went on to apologize for the horrific incident while also blaming lax governmental fire regulations for allowing it to ever happen. “If we had understood that the building regulations were not robust, if we had understood that we can’t trust a certification, if we had understood that advice that was being given from parties who were either specialists or marketing products were that unreliable and misleading—this is so sad to say, but I don’t think this tragedy would have happened,” he said. “I’m really, really sorry for all of you,” he said while addressing the public gallery, which was populated with surviving former residents and family members of those who perished in the fire. “I can only say to you from my heart that we really wanted to do the absolute best project we could.” Declared as structurally sound, Grenfell Tower, site of the deadliest residential fire since World War II, continues to stand, cloaked in ghostly white sheeting. There are plans to demolish it and transform the site into a memorial, although any path forward is at least a couple of years off as the inquiry continues.
Placeholder Alt Text

Fifteen architects and designers will advise design of Rikers Replacement jails

In October 2019, the City Council approved a controversial Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) application for the $8.7 billion plan to construct four new smaller jails to replace the Rikers Island complex. Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx would each get a community jail building that the reformists and their supporters in the Mayor’s Office for Criminal Justice (MCOJ) called “smaller, safer, and fairer.” “This is part of a once-in-many-generations opportunity to build a smaller and more humane justice system that includes four facilities that reflect the City’s commitment to dignity and respect,” the NYC Department of Design and Construction (DDC) said at the time. “The new facilities will offer better connections to and space for those detained and their families, attorneys, courts, medical and mental health care, education, therapeutic programming and service providers.” In addition to the Borough-Based Jail Program (BBJP)’s larger urban ambitions of moving the detention facilities off of Rikers and closer to the communities where inmates come from, on February 4, the DDC issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for a pool of design-build teams that will propose schemes to dismantle and build new facilities across the four selected boroughs. AECOM and Hill Engineering have already been tapped to help envision and implement a design-forward approach to the new sites. When The Rikers Island Jail Complex Replacement Act was passed in 2018, it was made clear that design, quality, past performance, and qualifications would be the priority rather than simple budget concerns. The DDC and the MOCJ, in conjunction with the NYC Department of Correction (DOC), announced an independent peer review committee of architects and designers yesterday that will assist in the selection and design that will help select the teams from the RFQ, provide guidelines for the RFP, and participate in architectural review that will “ensure high-quality design submissions that balance aesthetics, functionality, cost, constructability and durability.” Several of the reviewers have been involved in the BBJP process already, having served on the Justice Implementation Task Force’s Working Group on Design. Below are the Peer Review Panelists:
Dominick DeAngelis, RA, AIA, Vice President of Architecture and Engineering, NYC School Construction Authority Mr. DeAngelis is responsible for the design of $18 billion of construction over the next five years that will create 57,000 seats in 87 new schools or additions, and upgrade 1,840 additional NYC public schools. Wendy Feuer, Assistant Commissioner for Urban Design + Art + Wayfinding, NYC Department of Transportation Ms. Feuer’s DOT office makes streets attractive and welcoming for all users, and publishes a street design manual for City agencies, consultants and community groups. She has been a public art peer for the federal General Services Administration’s Design Excellence program for over 15 years.  Erik Fokkema, Architect, Partner, EGM Architecten Mr. Fokkema has expansive experience in the Netherlands in institutional facilities, as well as private residential and public buildings. He is an expert in building operations, making the complex simple, and designing humane and user-friendly buildings.  Mark Gardner, AIA, NOMA, Principal, Jaklitsch/Gardner Architects New York-based architect Mark Gardner’s experience scales from buildings to interiors to product design, and he works to understand the role of design as a social practice. He is an expert and strong advocate for diversity and inclusion in architecture and design.  Rosalie Genevro, Executive Director, The Architectural League of New York An architectural historian and urbanist, Ms. Genevro has led initiatives at The Architectural League addressing housing, schools, libraries and topics such as climate change. She is a frequent contributor on the City’s building environment. Samantha Josaphat, RA, Founding Principal, Studio 397 Architecture Ms. Josaphat’s portfolio includes architecture and interior design of higher education projects, as well as large- and small-scale residential projects, to which she brings impressive knowledge of the City’s building regulations. She is President of the New York Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects. Purnima Kapur, Urbanism Advisors, former Executive Director, NYC Department of City Planning Ms. Kapur was a key architect of the City’s groundbreaking Mandatory Inclusionary Housing regulation, which has led to five Integrated Neighborhood plans, and has been integral to the redevelopment of Brooklyn over the past two decades via projects including the Greenpoint-Williamsburg Waterfront, Downtown Brooklyn and Coney Island. Bruce Kuwabara, OC, OAA, FRAIC, AIA, RIBA, Partner, KPMB Architects One of Canada’s leading architects, Mr. Kuwabara’s diverse portfolio encompasses cultural, civic, educational, healthcare and performing arts projects in North America and Europe. Luis Medina-Carreto, Project Manager, Press Builders Mr. Medina is an expert in New York City construction management and methods, with a reputation of bringing projects to completion on schedule and on budget in the City’s complicated building environment. Gudrun Molden, Architect, Founding Partner, HLM Architects Gudrun Molden comes to the City from Norway with extensive experience in detention facility architecture in an urban context, including Oslo city center and Åna prison in Norway. Nancy Prince, RLA, ASLA, Chief of Landscape Architecture, NYC Department of Parks & Recreation Ms. Prince establishes the design aesthetic and vision for the Parks Department’s large and varied portfolio of projects. Prior to entering public service, Ms. Prince spent years designing New York City’s parks and playgrounds. Stanley Richards, Executive Vice President, The Fortune Society With decades of experience in the criminal justice field, Stanley leads Fortune’s management, direct service programs, fundraising and advocacy work to promote alternatives to incarceration and support successful reentry from prison. Annabelle Selldorf, AIA, Principal, Selldorf Architects Ms. Selldorf founded her practice in New York City over 30 years ago. Her firm’s broad expertise has been applied in cultural, educational, industrial and residential projects throughout the United States. Lisa Switkin, FAAR, ASLA, Senior Principal, James Corner Field Operations Ms. Switkin has helped to reshape New York City’s public spaces for 20 years, including the design and delivery of the High Line, Brooklyn’s Domino Park and the public spaces at South Street Seaport’s Pier 17. Andrew Winters, AIA, Head of Development Services, Sidewalk Labs While serving as Director of the Office of Capital Project Development under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Mr. Winters oversaw the development of public assets such as the High Line, East River Waterfront and Brooklyn Bridge Park. More recently he has overseen the planning, design and construction of the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island.
“Superior design is an essential element for creating the City’s more humane and more equitable justice system,” said DDC commissioner Lorraine Grillo in the panel’s announcement press release. “These buildings will be important civic structures, reflecting the ambition of the City’s justice reforms, ensuring the dignity and well-being of those who are incarcerated, work and visit them, and integrating into the city centers where they are located,” the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice director Elizabeth Glazer added. Workshops and community feedback have informed the process, including an emphasis on using community space, and the public meetings will give citizens the opportunity to give input on the ground floor sections. However, some feel that the city has not done enough to listen and reach out. A series of lawsuits are pending against three of the four facilities. Activist and neighborhood groups in Manhattan claim that the city did not reach out to the community, namely senior citizens living at the nearby Chung Pak center, and that the city knew about Native American human remains in the area that could be affected. The suit was filed by Neighbors United Below Canal and the American Indian Community House. A lawsuit in the Bronx claims the de Blasio administration failed to consider alternative sites, ignored environmental impact reports, and went around the required public review processes. In Queens, Queens Residents United and the Community Preservation Coalition make similar claims about top-down planning and lack of engagement with residents of the neighborhood. The DDC is proceeding with the projects, a spokesperson for the department told AN, while Nick Paolucci at the NYC Department of Law told AN that, “This litigation is ongoing. We stand by the city and its approvals for this important initiative.” “Our borough-based jails plan is the culmination of years of collaboration between the city, local elected officials, and the communities they represent,” City spokesman Avery Cohen told Court House News. “We will vigorously defend our work in court as we move forward with our commitment to close Rikers Island and create a justice system is that is smaller, safer, and fairer.” The fight is far from over. The RFP guidelines will be reviewed by the City Planning Commission, NYC Department of City Planning Design, an Advisory Group appointed by the City Council and affected Borough Presidents, and the Public Design Commission, who will also review the final proposals as the massive project moves through ULURP.
Placeholder Alt Text

Court strikes down appeal in Tate Modern privacy battle

It appears to be high time for the beleaguered inhabitants of London’s Neo Bankside, a Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP)-designed luxury development located a little too close to the Tate Modern museum, to finally invest in window treatments. Neo Bankside’s four hexagonal towers, angular affairs constructed from steel and glass with exterior bracing that’s characteristic of RSHP, are located opposite the west entrance of the Tate Modern’s Herzog & de Meuron-designed extension. Dubbed the Blavatnik Building, the brick addition was completed to much fanfare in 2016 with its observation deck touted as a main attraction. Neo Bankside opened four years earlier in 2012. It didn’t take long after the extension opened for residents living in certain Neo Bankside apartments to sense that they were being watched—closely watched. In addition to sweeping panoramic views of London, hordes of Tate Modern visitors were enjoying glimpses of other things from the terrace. Per The Telegraph, one resident complained of needing to be “properly dressed” at all times, lamenting that it was impossible to enjoy a meal at his dining room table without a rapt audience watching from across the way. Another spoke of being “under surveillance” by museum-goers. A female claimant expressed that she no longer felt comfortable hosting birthday celebrations for her young daughter at home, adding: “I feel as though my life revolves around the viewing platform’s opening hours.” Other residents claim to have been filmed, photographed, waved at, taunted, put on social media, and been subjected to lewd gestures by Tate Modern visitors, some of them wielding binoculars. Despite what they called this, what they called a “relentless” invasion of privacy, five residents of Neo Bankside have now experienced yet another blow in an ongoing legal battle with the museum. Earlier this week, the residents lost an appeal that challenged a February 2019 ruling issued by the High Court in favor of Tate Modern. In that ruling, Justice Anthony Mann dismissed an injunction that would have forced the Tate Modern to prevent “hundreds of thousands of visitors” from peering straight into the residents’ multi-million dollar flats across from the wildly popular 10th-floor viewing terrace. Specifically, the injunction demanded that the Tate Modern install privacy screening or block public access to sections of the viewing platform with direct views into the apartments. As reported by The Guardian, Mann suggested that Neo Bankside residents take it upon themselves to halt the onslaught of voyeurism by simply lowering their solar shades, installing privacy film, or opting for good old-fashioned sheer curtains. “These properties are impressive, and no doubt there are great advantages to be enjoyed in such extensive glassed views, but that in effect comes at a price in terms of privacy,” the judge explained. He went on to note that residents had “created their own sensitivity” by purchasing luxury apartments with floor-to-ceiling windows in an increasingly crowded city. In the latest setback for the claimants, the appeal court sided with the previous ruling to throw out the injunction. “The court has dismissed the appeal on the basis that overlooking does not fall within the tort of nuisance,” explained master of the tolls Sir Terence Etherton. In the latest ruling, the Court of Appeal also refused the claimants’ application for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. According to the ruling,
“Despite the hundreds of years in which there has been a remedy for causing nuisance to an adjoining owner’s land and the prevalence of overlooking in all cities and towns, there has been no reported case in this country in which a claimant has been successful in a nuisance claim for overlooking by a neighbour.”
Still, despite the most recent defeat, Natasha Rees, the head of property litigation at the law firm representing the five claimants, announced that the case was far from over. “The leaseholders are obviously very disappointed with the outcome of the appeal, not least because they lost on a ground raised by the court of appeal,” Rees told The Guardian. “This is not a case of ‘mere overlooking’ but a situation that can clearly be distinguished from the type of overlooking experienced between residential or commercial flats and houses, a fact that was accepted by the first instance judge.” A Tate Modern spokesperson said of the most recent ruling: “We have noted the decision of the court of appeal and are grateful for their careful consideration of this matter. We continue to be mindful of the amenity of our neighbours and the role of Tate Modern in the local community.”
Placeholder Alt Text

Marlon Blackwell Architects sues over Arkansas casino design

Marlon Blackwell Architects (MBA) opened a lawsuit to dispute unpaid fees over the design of the Saracen Resort Casino that's currently under construction in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. According to Arkansas Times, the firm filed a complaint this month against HBG Design, Saracen Development, and John Berrey, chairman of the Quapaw tribe’s business committee, citing copyright infringement, business interference, and breach of contract for their architectural design work on the project.  As chair of architecture at the University of Arkansas, Blackwell was recently awarded the 2020 AIA Gold Medal for his influence in both architectural education and practice. According to the report, his studio designed a substantial amount of the project before HBG Design was brought on to assist. The Quapaws allegedly agreed to give Blackwell 35 percent of the architectural fee, but this agreement was not honored. Per the 55-page suit—which details Blackwell’s work on the project—the firm alleged that HGB and the Quapaw Nation stole MBA’s "copyright-protected architectural designs for that project, and refused to pay MBA what it is owed for its work on the project.” The suit further states that HBG had “poisoned” MBA’s relationship with the Quapaw Nation “by telling falsehoods," which caused the firm to be removed from the project. However, much of MBA’s designs were still used in blueprints without credit.  In an interview with Arkansas Times, Berrey said MBA's work wasn't on par with the Quapaw tribe's goals. “We think Mr. Blackwell is a very talented boutique architect," he said. "But functionality and constructability were lost in our process. We had hoped he was able to mold our specific needs into a great expression of the history of the wonderful Pine Bluff community, but it became very clear he didn’t share our vision.”  The casino is anticipated to open by June 1, 2020, and will feature a 300-room hotel, spa, restaurants, conference center, entertainment venue, as well as a museum and cultural center that will open in early 2021. A casino annex has already been completed and began serving guests this past September.  AN reached out to Marlon Blackwell Architects for comment on the lawsuit and will update this article upon receiving a response. 
Placeholder Alt Text

Princeton sues Tod Williams and Billie Tsien over delayed project

Earlier this month, Princeton University filed a $10.7 million lawsuit against the firms involved in the design and construction of the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment due to “extensive changes and delays."  According to The Daily Princetonian, the Trustees of Princeton University are suing Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects (TWBTA), the architecture firm responsible for the design, as well as Texas-based sub-consultants Jacob Entities for professional negligence and a breach of contract between the university and TWBTA. The Trustees allege that members of the design team “failed to perform their professional design responsibilities in accordance with the prevailing standard of care, resulting in unnecessary and excessive additional costs and expensive project delays.” The suit also lists a claim of “indemnification” which states that TWBTA must compensate the university "for costs relating to the design team’s negligence." Per the complaint, the university had contracted the firm to perform design services for the Center in February 2009. Construction began in 2012 and was completed in 2016, approximately 10 months behind schedule. The document also detailed that the architects and consultants issued 87 Architect’s Supplemental Instructions (ASI) between 2012 and 2017, which led to the issuance of 462 design-related Change Order Requests (COR) that were allegedly related to the team’s “errors and omissions." Seventeen of those were attributed to 3D modeling software issues and seven to design-team-caused delays. AN has reached out to TWBTA for comment on the suit and will update this article accordingly to the firm's response.
Placeholder Alt Text

Macy’s is filing suit against the Horton Plaza Mall demolition

Nearly five months after a unanimous City Council vote in May to demolish San Diego’s postmodern Horton Plaza Mall and replace it with a mixed-use block tentatively named “The Campus at Horton,” a group of local politicians and business executives have urged Macy’s department store, one of three retailers at the mall, to reconsider a lawsuit that would prevent the demolition from taking place according to the San Diego Tribune. Earlier this month, Macy’s West Stores, Inc. had filed a lawsuit against Stockdale Capital Partners, the Los Angeles-based real estate investment firm that purchased the Jon Jerde-designed Horton Plaza Mall complex in August of last year, to slow down or halt the forthcoming conversion. The department store intends to halt the mall’s destruction by appealing to a San Diego Court judge, arguing that the developer’s plans to replace the complex with high-tech office space and rebrand the area violate Macy’s lease agreement. Additionally, Macy’s real estate executive Douglas Sesler wrote a letter to San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer confirming their desire to take legal action, according to the Tribune. “We’re eager to continue a productive dialogue in good faith,” wrote Sesler, “but we concluded that litigation was necessary to prevent further deterioration of our rights and, even worse, another potential non-starter in the history of Horton Plaza redevelopment proposals.” The lawsuit claims that repurposing the mall violates Macy's lease agreement as well as a reciprocal easement agreement they had signed, which gives the company veto power in the case of major property changes. Though portions of the mall’s one-million-square-foot interior have already been demolished as part of the original development schedule to complete the first phase of the tech campus by the end of next year, the project will be legally required to come to a standstill if the judge finds Macy’s claim to be substantial. If the conversion moves ahead as originally planned, the amount of retail space on-site would be slashed to 300,000 square feet, as office space would "float" above the street on top of first-floor retail podiums.
Placeholder Alt Text

U.S. plywood producers sue over false labeling of off-grade Brazilian panels

Ten domestic plywood producers have jointly filed a lawsuit against several U.S. certification agencies for falsely labeling ineffective imported panels from South America. The group, known as the U.S. Structural Plywood Integrity Coalition, claims that structural panels produced in Brazil are being fraudulently certified and stamped upon entry to the U.S. even though they don’t meet the country’s minimum requirements for stiffness and deflection (the amount it sags when under horizontal load). This isn’t a new issue: In June 2018, the nonprofit trade group APA - The Engineered Wood Association sent an advisory to all domestic manufacturers detailing the results of its own nearly year-long experiment testing the strength and structural integrity of imported panels from seven different Brazilian producers. Though all of their products were marked with the official stamp for Structural Plywood, known as U.S. Product Standard PS 1-09, they all failed to comply with federal regulations by large margins.  Tyler Freres, vice president of sales at Freres Lumber Co. in Lyons, Oregon, said he’s seen the stamp on countless poor-quality panels with his own eyes, many of which were tested independently at Clemson University under the coalition’s purview. He told AN that even though the APA advisory went out to all U.S.-based companies, pressure hadn’t mounted enough in the last year to force the industry’s top certification firms, PFS TECO of Wisconsin, Timber Products Inspection of Georgia, and the International Accreditation Service of California, to stop the fraudulent labeling.  “No one cared,” he said. Freres and the nine other plywood companies that make up the coalition are hoping to halt further shipments from Brazil and to educate U.S. contractors and homebuyers about the issue, which started in 2016 when both the U.S. dollar and housing market became stronger. At the same time, Brazil’s government began encouraging producers to ramp up their timber harvesting.  “As consumers, we all need to be aware of where our products come from,” said Freres. “Wood materials should be produced in the most environmentally [sustainable] places possible and it’s no secret that South America is having huge problems with deforestation and illegal harvesting.”  Freres is specifically talking about native North American wood species like loblolly pine, slash pine, and others that, for the last four years, have been planted and unnaturally grown in large-scale plantations on top of former rainforests. “The species grows so fast in Brazil,” he said, “that the density [of the wood fiber] isn’t sufficient for structural purposes.”  Over the last two years, the amount of imported structural panels has grown to a total of 25 percent of the U.S. market, resulting in an oversaturated supply. Naturally, producers in the Pacific Northwest all the way down to the South have had to lower the number of panels they make, as well as the price, to compete with international imports. One member of the coalition, Gray Skipper from the Alabama-based Scotch Plywood Company, said many manufacturers have felt Brazil’s push to get its products into the hands of U.S. consumers. “We used to do a fair amount of business to Central and South Florida,” said Skipper. “It was about 20 percent of our product sales a decade ago. Now it’s something like one percent. Because of this, we’ve been focusing toward the Midwest and Northeastern markets but we’d like to be back in Southern Florida as soon as possible.”  According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, much of the imported Brazilian plywood that’s been coming into the U.S. has landed in Florida. The material is used as roof and wall sheathing on residential and commercial buildings, and it’s extremely dangerous to build with in locations that are subject to extreme weather. The allegations laid out in the coalition’s lawsuit, a Lanham Act claim, suggest that a hurricane, high winds, or an earthquake could easily damage a home or cause deaths where these off-grade panels were used.  Skipper said that he’s heard stories from builders who’ve have had to turn down the pressure of their nail guns when using the Brazilian panels because they are so much thinner than the U.S. product. Despite this, these falsely labeled panels are still being bought, which is why the coalition is looking for upwards of $300 million in its lawsuit against the three certification agencies. Freres said the group will continue to complete additional deflection testing, as well as full-scale wind testing, through Clemson and Oregon State University up until December in order to further build out its case.  So far, two of the three firms have denied the allegations. In a September statement from Timber Products Inspection, the company's president said it has "extreme confidence in our processes" and that "clients in Brazil and elsewhere who do not consistently meet the applicable industry standard do no remain as TP clients." 
Placeholder Alt Text

David Chipperfield's Nobel Center is blocked by Swedish court

After the revised scheme for David Chipperfield’s Nobel Center in Stockholm sailed through a city council vote in 2016, Sweden’s Land and Environment Court halted construction on the project on May 22. The $132 million complex was set to break ground on Stockholm’s Blasieholmen peninsula and would serve as a permanent home for all Nobel Prize ceremonies going forward. Chipperfield’s revised design, presented in 2016 to address concerns that the Nobel Center would be too large for the historically sensitive district in which it sits, would see two stacked boxes wrapped in vertical brass louvers dropped right on the waterfront. Although the project passed an additional vote by the Stockholm County Administrative Board last year, the ruling has put a hold on construction over the building's size, color, and sensitive location. The City of Stockholm will reportedly appeal the decision to a higher court. In ruling against the Center’s construction, the court wrote that the building would have a negative impact on the area’s cultural heritage, claiming it would “cause significant damage” to the district’s environment, and “would affect the readability of Stockholm's historical development as a port, shipping and trading city.” Inside, Chipperfield’s scheme for the Center is anchored by an large sunken stage overlooking the Klara Sjö canal, framed by an enormous double-height window bay. When Nobel Prizes aren’t being awarded, the building would be used to host lectures, science-related seminars, regular exhibitions, and other important ceremonies. While the project might be temporarily stalled out, Chipperfield Architects released a suite of new interior renderings right before the ruling came down. The new images reveal the Center’s finalized interior layout and a surprisingly stark choice of materials. The Center’s smaller footprint has necessitated a tighter layout, and from the renderings, it appears that the building will be precisely programmed, with circulation moving around a central void between floors. Chipperfield has chosen to use raw concrete and will keep the building’s structural elements exposed, from the floor joists over guests’ heads to the concrete columns that break up the circulation areas. Even the sunken theater appears to be paneled in precast concrete (no word on how that might affect the acoustic properties). AN will follow up on this story as the case proceeds.
Placeholder Alt Text

Alejandro Zaera-Polo sues Princeton University for "damages" to his reputation

Spanish architect Alejandro Zaera-Polo is filing a law suit against the current trustees of Princeton University, incumbent President Christopher L. Eisgruber, and Dean Kathleen Deignan. Founder of London and New York-based Alejandro Zaera-Polo & Maider Llaguno Architecture (AZPML), and Foreign Office Architects (now no longer practicing), Zaera-Polo is also the former dean of Princeton's School of Architecture.
Eisgruber asked to Zaera-Polo to resign in 2014 after he allegedly did not credit work done by the university for his exhibition on facades and its catalog at that year's Venice Architecture Biennale, directed by Rem Koolhaas. [You can find coverage of the current 2016 Biennale here]
Now Zaera-Polo is claiming the university caused “substantial damage” to both his reputation and his firm, which subsequently led to him miss “lucrative and prestigious professional and academic opportunities.” According to BDOnline, Zaera-Polo alleges that President Christopher L. Eisgruber's insistence that he resign—which Zaera-Polo he described as “inexplicably urgent”—led to “false rumors of sexual or financial misconduct” being spread. “Moreover Eisgruber and Prentice acted prematurely, negligently and/or recklessly in a manner that seemingly confirmed the widespread, false, and damaging public rumors concerning [the] plaintiff," the papers read. "Defendants’ actions and failures to act have resulted in significant damage to plaintiff’s business and to his reputation, including the loss of lucrative and prestigious professional and academic opportunities." As a result, the Spanish architect is calling for “punitive damages” held against Eisgruber, Deborah Prentice (the current dean of the faculty), trustees, “John and Jane Does,” and 20 “other individuals who participated in, or were complicit with, the conduct complained of herein” (likely to be students and staff).
The papers filed at Mercer County Court in Trenton, describe the event as “an action for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, trade libel, and defamation.” In addition to this, Prentice reported the complaint to Koolhaas. Zaera-Polo, however, said that the work duly credited others in the footnotes of an academic version of the catalog. One anonymous source stated Zaera-Polo plagiarized Wikipedia. The papers also state: “Adding insult to injury, defendants have fostered a hostile environment toward plaintiff at Princeton. For example, Princeton relocated plaintiff to a shared office in a basement, contrary to Princeton’s policy granting full, senior professors individual offices, generally on the ground floor. Princeton hired an alternate lecturer on building facades (plaintiff’s expertise) and scheduled that course to conflict exactly with plaintiff’s course on the same subject. Princeton even failed to list plaintiff’s course in its course catalog during spring 2015.” Meanwhile Princeton University has said in a statement: “The university is aware that Professor Zaera-Polo has filed an action against it and others relating to the investigation and disposition of research misconduct claims asserted against him and to his resignation as Dean of the School of Architecture. As noted in the rules and procedures of the faculty, the ‘university is committed to high scholarly standards in the substance of research and to high ethical standards in the conduct of research’ and to the fair and unbiased adjudication of all misconduct complaints. “The university is confident that the officials and faculty members who investigated and adjudicated the claims against Professor Zaera-Polo did so fairly and in accordance with university policies and procedures. The university will defend its position in court, and looks forward to the successful resolution of these claims.”
Placeholder Alt Text

Developers, builders sue city of Chicago over new affordable housing fees

Home builders and developers in Chicago have sued the city to block a tightening of its affordable housing laws, which were recently revamped to encourage more private development of units accessible to low-income residents. Hoyne Development and the Home Builders Association of Greater Chicago say the longstanding Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO) violates the Fifth Amendment because it involves the taking of private property without "just compensation.” Earlier this year Chicago City Council voted to overhaul of the ARO, which compels private developers to build affordable housing or pay "in-lieu" fees. Those fees were too low, many argued, and resulted mostly in developers paying their way out of having to devote a substantial amount of new housing stock to affordable units. But in their suit the developers argue raising the fees could backfire by making $900 million in planned construction suddenly infeasible. The new ARO fees take effect October 13. As Brentin Mock writes for CityLab, the outcome of the case could affect similar proceedings in Los Angeles and New York, where so-called inclusionary-zoning plans are in the works.