Architects really put a lot on the line — to be listed as the architect of record means to be legally liable for the integrity and code-compliance of a building, while the design architect is the one doing the super cool origami-fold façade panels and spectacular lobbies. In either case, it’s a lot to be responsible for when major building projects have to consider the conflicting needs of contractors, engineers, and the client, who ultimately owns the building. As a lawsuit announced this week shows, there can be a hefty price to pay when people end up disappointed. Architect Jean Nouvel, responsible for the design of the Philharmonie de Paris, is suing the organization this week over hefty fines levied by the Philharmonie against him, due to the building being famously behind schedule and ridiculously over budget.
As reported by the Guardian, Nouvel’s design was initially met with great fanfare, but spiraled into a public relations nightmare as the price tag on the concert hall rose from €173 million (~$192.5 million) when the project was announced in 2006 to €386 million (~$430 million) by the time it opened in January of 2015, two years late on its projected timeline. In 2017, the Philharmonie billed Nouvel for €170.6 million (~$190 million) in retribution for the delays, which included a massive late fee that, according to the lawsuit filed this week by the architect’s studio, is “totally disproportionate.”
Lawyers William Bourdon and Vincent Brengarth, who are representing Jean Nouvel’s studio in the suit, stated that the sums being demanded were “unprecedented in the world of architecture” and amounted to a death sentence for Nouvel’s studio. They also highlighted the fact that these penalties were directed solely at the architect, rather than distributed among the many stakeholders in a building project of this size, which presumably includes contractors and engineers that contributed to the sprawling unmanageability of the project.
Whatever the truth or the outcome, the continuing saga surrounding the Philharmonie de Paris shows the dark side of architecture as a profession. Nouvel’s attitude on the project shifted over time, with the architect ultimately refusing to attend the opening — hopefully due to artistic differences and not structural concerns. As anyone who has grappled with a professional renovation can attest, the course of architecture ne’er runs smooth. C’est dommage!