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Connecticut Science Center Sues Its Architect

JEFFREY B. COHEN

November 05, 2009

HARTFORD - The Connecticut Science Center has filed suit against the world-renowned architectural firm that designed it, seeking at least $10 million and claiming that architects at Pelli Clarke Pelli designed an iconic roof that was "structurally unsound."

The construction of the center's steel body was all but complete nearly two years ago when state inspectors noticed that the two overhanging sides of the distinctive "magic carpet" roof were sagging. That flaw forced a monthslong repair that forced a delay in the center's opening, the suit alleges.

"The failures of the design were numerous and significant," the suit says. "In short, the design caused the roof structure to be structurally unsound."

The science center, designed by New Haven architect Cesar Pelli, opened with fanfare in June.

The center held a "topping off" ceremony in mid-August 2007 to commemorate the installation of the building's final piece of steel. But by the end of the month, the center's quality control inspectors noticed an unexpected sag in the roof. Both the east and west overhangs of the building's roof needed more support. Architects, engineers, and the construction manager blamed the steelmakers and erectors, and vice versa.

Letters among the firms working on the project also showed disagreement. Structural engineers at Thornton Tomasetti Inc., working for Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, said, among other things, that the roof was unduly stressed, causing the sag, because the contractors who put it up did so before attaching several steel plates. The construction manager, Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., agreed.

But the erector, Berlin Steel, said that it raised the roof just as spelled out in contract documents, and argued that the problem could be attributed to flaws in the making of the steel done by Cives Steel Co. as well as the "combined effect of allowable fabrication and erection tolerances."

According to the lawsuit, filed in July and reported Wednesday in the Hartford Advocate, Pelli eventually redesigned the roof, adding roughly 30 tons of steel "to its initial failed design so that the roof structure would not fail." The redesign caused major repair costs and delays, the suit charges.

A second issue was the design of the "wind girts" that were "wholly inadequate, incomplete, and lacking in necessary detail," the suit says. The girts connect the center's metal wall panels to its structure. The design problems caused "significant remedial work," the suit says.

Finally, the Pelli firm was 16 months delayed in its completion of the project and had to issue 438 bulletins, or design changes or clarifications, to the project. Roughly 338 of them were issued after Pelli had "represented that the design of the construction documents was complete," the suit says.

The repairs were paid for out of more than $40 million raised from private donors, all but exhausting what the center had hoped would be a multimillion-dollar post-opening reserve fund.

The suit alleges, among other things, breach of contract and professional negligence.

Janet Yoder, Pelli's director of communications, said that "the claim is a little vague" and that the company is awaiting clarification from the science center. She would not comment specifically on the charges.

The firm filed court papers putting its various subcontractors on notice that they might be held liable for damages in the case.

Raymond Garcia, the center's attorney, said that the litigation won't get in the way of mediation. "It will more likely than not enhance the probability that the case will be resolved through mediation," Garcia said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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