Ove Arup & Partners says it is "incredulous" over a lawsuit by the Art Institute of Chicago accusing the company of errors on the museum’s 264,000-sq-ft Modern Wing. Filed in federal district court in Chicago, the lawsuit claims the multidisciplinary engineer failed to discharge its obligations during design and construction of the wing, which opened in May 2009.

Art Institute of Chicago alleges Arup did not provide adequate engineering services for the 264,000-sq-ft Modern Wing.
Photo © Charles G. Young Interactive Design Architects
Art Institute of Chicago alleges Arup did not provide adequate engineering services for the 264,000-sq-ft Modern Wing.

The lawsuit, filed Sept. 21, claims Arup's services were "woefully inadequate." The museum asked the court to order the London-based firm to pay $10 million in damages to cover the cost of repairs to air-handling systems, concrete subfloors and other parts of the wing’s mechanical and structural systems.

"We were incredulous that the AIC cancelled an  Oct. 4 mediation and filed this suit," says Trina Foster, director of marketing and communications in the New York City office of Arup Americas. "We have had some meetings with them and had established a mediation process," she says.

AIC claims the talks went nowhere. "We have tried for some time to amicably resolve these issues and we increasingly found our discussions with Arup to be unproductive," says Erin Hogan, AIC's director of public affairs.

“We are surprised to learn Arup was planning to proceed in serious fashion on October 4th,” Hogan adds. “We have been trying to settle these issues since January 2009.”

Hogan stresses that the lawsuit concerns issues related to getting the $294-million building finished, not about the finished building. "None of the art work was ever in jeopardy," says Hogan. "We are thrilled with the Modern Wing. Everything in the suit is about the process" of design and construction.”

The dispute centers around alleged errors and omissions in heating and cooling systems, concrete floors, the building envelope, a portion of the roof referred to as the "flying carpet," a pedestrian bridge, as well as "incorrect structural engineering." It also alleges Arup provided an insufficient number of experienced engineers to handle construction administration, which contributed to "costly delays and required revisions to work already completed." The claim says AIC spent or will have to spend some $10 million as a result of Arup's poor performance on the project.

Neither the addition’s architect, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, nor the architect-of-record, InterActiveDesign Inc., Chicago, were named as defendants.

Turner Construction Co., which managed the wing’s construction, was also not named as a defendant.

The London office of Ove Arup & Partners, with assistance from its Chicago office, served as the engineer of record for the project.  

Broad Scope of Work
Arup's scope of work included structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, acoustic, lighting and fire protection engineering. Arup says its scope did not include the building envelope or any renovations to the existing museum.

Regarding the mechanical systems, the complaint alleges "the air handling systems...were incapable of delivering air that met the standards for the safe display of artworks." Specifics are then provided.

The suit also alleges that during construction, the contractor discovered extensive cracking, curling and delamination of the concrete subfloor, which the suit says was "constructed pursuant to Arup's design and specifications." Many floors had to be repaired extensively, says the suit.

The complaint also says that Arup failed to identify appropriate engineering parameters and performance criteria necessary for the structural design in a "complete, timely, and/or accurate fashion," especially concerning the accommodation of anticipated expansion and contraction of certain structures and their component parts.

Arup says the issues under discussion are not unusual for a large and complex museum project and declines to comment on the specifics of the complaint. Arup does say it does not understand the cost overrun claim in light of AIC's published statement that the project came in on time and on budget.

"We maintain our view that we have acted consistently with the high standards expected of our profession and we hope to continue to work with the art institute to find an amicable resolution to their concerns and ours," says Foster.