Tearing Down a Gehry

UC Irvine decision isn't about aesthetics -- building by the noted architect is falling apart.
September 6, 2005

Many colleges and universities these days appear to be trying to outdo one another with big projects by famous architects. And few architects attract attention like Frank O. Gehry, who designed a $300 million building at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the business school at Case Western Reserve University.

But at least one university has had it with its Gehry -- and plans to tear it down. The University of California at Irvine is going to demolish a 17,800 square foot building used for engineering and computer science. The building is falling apart.

"The exterior of the building is leaking. There is serious water penetration in the building and structural deterioration. The underlying roof structure requires major work. The mechanical system has reached the end of its useful life, and the exterior stairs are dry rotted throughout," said Richard G. Demerjian, director of campus and environmental planning.

While there have been a few voices against the plan, there has been no broad outcry.

Demerjian said that the university paid just under $2 million to build the facility in 1986, and that it would cost many times that sum to fix the building, so it makes more sense to tear it down (along with one next to it) and build a better structure.

When the Gehry building went up, Demerjian said, California was skimping on construction costs, and used "very inexpensive materials," which is why he thinks so many things are wrong with the building.
At Irvine, he said, the fact that a building is "a Gehry" was one factor in the discussions about what to do with it. But it wasn't a deciding factor.

"The focus from the campus's perspective was the condition of the building, the huge cost to repair it, and space needs," Demerjian said.

The project to replace the building will start next year.


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