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Vinoly sued over alleged Kimmel Center design flaws

On a Friday night in December 2001, Philadelphians gathered to celebrate the opening of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, the new home for their beloved Philadelphia Orchestra. But four years after the opening, the center is struggling to remain afloat with the burden of a $30 million bank loan debt: $23 million from construction overruns and $7 million from funding shortfalls.

To help alleviate the issue, the Philadelphia Regional Performing Arts Center, which manages the Kimmel, is suing the building's architect, New York-based Rafael Vinoly Architects (RVA), over what it alleges—in its 28-page complaint filed on November 23, 2005, in Philadelphia's United States District Court offices—are costs resulting from "deficient and defective design work" at its hands.

The complaint concludes that "most, if not all, of the cost overruns" were "the result of [Rafael Vinoly Architects'] performance on the project." It states, "The construction cost $180 million, which was significantly more than the

The Kimmel, with its glass-barrel-vaulted exterior (left) and cello-shaped main performance hall (above), has been a hit in Philadelphia. But it's facing a budget crisis.

$157 million originally budgeted for construction."

Costs shot up, the document says, when steel erection was delayed by 16 months, threatening the center's long-planned opening. The shorted time frame prompted overtime filings from workers, and costly charges for expedited manufacturing services.

The complaint alleges that documents were late, inaccurate, and incomplete; that design work was inadequate; and that equipment underperformed and required repair or replacement. The complaint states that RVA broke its contractual promise to correct—at no cost to the Kimmel—any defects in design or in specification.

Because the case is still pending, neither party would comment directly on the matter. Vinoly's office released a statement saying that it was "extremely disappointed" by the complaint, adding, "The same people who praised the building are now criticizing it. We feel the claim is unsubstantiated."

The 425,000-square-foot, glass-barrel-vaulted performing arts center, which contains three theaters, is located on Broad Street in Center City Philadelphia. Today, the center—which has spearheaded a transformation of Philadelphia's cultural life and civic identity—struggles to pay the $2 million annual bank loan fee servicing the $30 million debt from construction overruns and from falling short of fund-raising goals. A December 14 story in The Philadelphia Inquirer noted that this debt is compromising the center's ability to amass an endowment and develop toplevel programming.

The case goes to trial on January 28, 2006, and comes after the Kimmel's 30-month effort to resolve the matter with RVA failed (an effort it charges in the complaint that the firm stalled by its delays in attempting to find counsel). The suit could open up many issues about an architect's financial and legal accountability for construction overruns.

Joseph Dennis Kelly II

Architect starts "university" in his offices

Rafael Vinoly (discussed in the story above) has developed a 14-week training course for architecture students and young practitioners. He is teaching it from his office.

The course, which began in September with two-hour weekly sessions, attracted 53 applicants worldwide. Vinoly handpicked the 19 participants, who range from students enrolled in architecture schools to architects starting their own practice, based on the quality of their portfolio and applications. The participants are not employed by Vinoly and do not pay a fee for the course.

Why would an architect, with a busy schedule and projects around the globe, take on such a course? "There is a need to address the questions of people coming into the workforce, to offer a pragmatic set of techniques

that can be explained and taught," says Viñoly.

The course covers topics including strategic thinking, getting and executing projects, the design process, recognizing architectural ideas, self-criticism, time management, defining an ideological base, and positioning a practice. The program is an opportunity for Viñoly, who has taught at Yale and other schools, to teach within the setting of his office rather than in university studios that seem far removed from practice. Frances Gretes, director of new business for Rafael Viñoly Architects, observed, "He learns a lot when he teaches. He has really articulated a lot of his philosophy (in the course)."

Viñoly expects to conduct the program annually. More information on the course is available at the Web site, www.rvatr.com. John E. Czarnecki, Assoc. AIA

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