Cornell Sues Builders for Botched Museum Add-On

     ITHACA, N.Y. – A defectively designed and constructed addition to Cornell University’s art museum has left its contents susceptible to damage from water leaks and humidity, a state-court suit says.
     Cornell sued New York-based Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Architects LLP and Murnane Building Contractors in Tompkins County, claiming the shoddy construction of the museum addition makes it impossible for the museum to do its work.
     “Cornell has suffered numerous problems with the museum addition which have compromised its ability to bring outside exhibits to the Johnson Art Museum, maintain the extensive and exceptionally valuable collection of the museum, and attract both visitors and donors to the institution,” the complaint states.
     The university’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, located on Cornell’s Ithaca campus, was designed by famed architect I.M. Pei and opened in 1973.
     “The museum is a centerpiece of Cornell’s Ithaca campus, both for the iconic design of the building and the impressively large and diverse art collection it houses,” the complaint states.
     “Over the years the museum has developed a pressing need for more ‘smart’ gallery space to accommodate its growing art collection and increased visitor traffic in the context of technologically advanced 21st-century museum,” the lawsuit states.
     Construction on the addition began in 2009 and continued into 2012, according to the lawsuit. The school hired Pei Cobb Freed & Partners to design the addition.
     Cornell claims the architectural design is not consistent with industry standards with regard to indoor temperature and humidity specifications – needed to maintain the integrity of the artwork – and that water leaks in the building’s roof weren’t remedied by the contractors.
     “Photographs taken by Pei and Cornell, field reports by Pei, as well as other documents from the time of the construction, all note that water was trapped in interstitial assemblies and/or leaking into the interior at the roof’s perimeter or at the light fixtures during construction.
     “On information and belief, Murnane did not take any steps to remediate the trapped water, which was obvious and apparent and known to both Murnane and Pei,” the complaint states.
     “Pei’s plans and designs for the roof to the museum addition were inherently and materially defective because the design does not allow for the regular maintenance or repair of the piping and wiring incorporated into the roofing structure,” according to the complaint.
     “Pei’s design necessitates major construction and disruption for routine maintenance and minor repairs.”
     Other alleged defects include cracks in the ceiling around the light fixtures and windows which are inadequate to resist condensation.
     “Pei’s plans and designs for the building, even when carried to full and accurate execution by Murnane, were inherently flawed and materially defective such that the design was fundamentally incompatible with the essential goals and purposes of the museum addition,” the lawsuit states.
     The university is suing for architectural malpractice, breach of contract and negligent construction and supervision.
     Cornell is represented by Nelson Roth.

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