Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Gaps in the Times: "Frank Gehry’s Software Keeps [Some] Buildings on Budget"

The legendarily press-shy architect Frank Gehry breaks his silence today for a piece of positive explanatory journalism on the real estate page of today's New York Times, headlined Frank Gehry’s Software Keeps Buildings on Budget.

The article, which focuses on the Beekman Tower the architect is designing for developer Forest City Ratner, seems perfectly reasonable on its face. But it serves as another argument that the Times must disclose the parent company's business relationship with the developer.

No such disclosure appears, but a disclosure--one hopes--would've prompted the writer and editors to ask Gehry a challenging question or two, rather than just softballs. The article aims to explain how Gehry's new software helps control costs at the tower; the article ignores the enormous cost increases at the Atlantic Yards project and fails to ask whether Gehry, in fact, continues to actively participate in the design.

"Potent tool"

The article states:
When Bruce Ratner hired Frank Gehry in 2004 to design a wrinkled-looking 76-story residential skyscraper in Manhattan near the Brooklyn Bridge, the market for eye-popping luxury condominiums was booming, and the world-class architect’s multimillion-dollar fees probably seemed relatively insignificant. Now, however, the economy is crumbling, the building is envisioned as rental apartments and Mr. Gehry is bringing a more potent tool to control costs than most architects can deliver.

For the Forest City Ratner Companies, the developer of Beekman Tower, the project will test the idea that an architect can provide powerful (and expensive) modeling software to help keep costs down. Using the software, fabricators have produced a facade with various textures at a price that Mr. Gehry says does not exceed what a developer would pay to build a conventional boxy building of similar dimensions.


The article serves as an advertisement for Gehry Technologies, the company that "sells Digital Project to other developers and architects and trains project teams to use it." Another architect not completely enamored of the software does get quoted.

What about AY?

The article offers one tantalizing paragraph:
Forest City Ratner’s relationship with Mr. Gehry is not limited to this project. He also created a design for the multibillion-dollar Atlantic Yards project, with 17 buildings, which the company has proposed for downtown Brooklyn. With lawsuits pending and the economy turned sour, however, none of those buildings have gone to construction.

(NLG catches me missing the "downtown Brooklyn" error.)

What does "created a design" mean? Shouldn't the Times have asked if that design is still pending? If cost controls have changed it? If the cost of security measures caused the arena price tag to soar? If Gehry laid off staff working on the arena?

Forest City Ratner told the Times that the Beekman Tower is on time and on budget. No such question was asked regarding Atlantic Yards.

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