MIT sues architect of $300 million computer science building

Lawsuit claims deficient design work caused leaks, cracks and mould in the 730,000-square-foot building

Architect Frank Gehry's celebrated design for the Stata Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is making headlines again -- this time because of a lawsuit claiming deficient design work is the cause of leaks, cracks and mould in the 730,000-square-foot building.

The Boston Globe is reporting that MIT filed a negligence lawsuit against Gehry seeking unspecified damages for costs and expenses incurred by MIT because of flaws in his design of the Stata Center. Soon after its completion, the center's outdoor amphitheater began to crack, leaks sprang up throughout the building and mold grew on parts of the exterior, the lawsuit alleges.

MIT dedicated the US$300 million Stata Center building, home to its Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), in May 2004. The building's irregular combination of brick, stainless steel and painted white aluminum sections creates a dramatic scene at street level. Inside, the sculptural volumes create a maze of work spaces for the techie residents.

Stata Center sits on the site of the former Building 20, a legendary facility erected in 1943 as a temporary structure for MIT's radiation laboratory. The wooden, asbestos-ridden structure far outlasted its life expectancy and was revered for the ideas conceived in its laboratories. Amar Bose (of speaker maker Bose) is rumored to have surreptitiously tested his speaker designs in the building's anechoic chamber. More recently, Building 20 residents conceived ideas that evolved into such companies as RSA Security and Akamai Technologies.

Many didn't want to see Building 20 razed, and Gehry, at a dedication ceremony for the Stata Center, acknowledged "there was a lot of love for a building called Building 20."

Shortly after the Stata Center was completed, CSAIL's IT director, Jack Costanza, talked to Network World about what it's like to provide network and IT services to a tech-savvy population -- and what it's like to do so throughout an ambitious design and construction project.

The original building plans for Stata Center, which runs a 10G bit/sec optical Ethernet backbone, called for a dozen small computer rooms and no data closets, for example. After discussions with Costanza's team, the architects worked in fewer, bigger computer rooms to allow for more centralized computing and storage resources.

But the data closets didn't materialize, and Costanza's team wound up encasing each of its 32 Cisco Catalyst 6506 switches in its own soundproof, ventilated container when their noise turned out to be too much for nearby users.

According to the Globe, MIT paid Los Angeles-based Gehry Partners US$15 million to design the Stata Center. MIT alleges that both Gehry Partners and the construction company, Beacon Skanska Construction Co., now known as Skanska USA Building, violated their contracts with MIT and are responsible for construction and design failures on the project, the Globe reports. MIT's lawsuit was filed in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston on October 31.

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