July 16, 2009
50 UN Plaza Update: Hell Hath No Fury As Architects Scorned
"The decision to select a British firm [Foster + Partners] to renovate 50 United Nations Plaza has provoked controversy as the project was made possible by the $130 billion federal stimulus fund for building renovation and construction."
∙ American fury as Foster grabs $120m San Francisco job [architectsjournal]
∙ We Still Believe It Would Have Made A Most Excellent Museum [SocketSite]
First Published: July 16, 2009 9:15 AM
Comments from "Plugged In" Readers
I'm sure most of the work will get sub'd through union labor in SF so we're really just talking about the profit margin going to the UK. Still, it does seem a little shortsighted that we wouldn't mandate these federal funds to be spent with US firms. On the other hand, we do live in America and freedom is our right. Regardless, hard to feel to bad for a bunch of architects who couldn't beat a UK firm for a local preservationist job. They probably overbid thinking it couldn't possibly go to a UK firm.
Posted by: eddy at July 16, 2009 9:50 AM
I can understand the concern, but am excited about the possibility of a Foster design in a prominent SF location. He's built some iconic designs in the past. Let's hope SF's design by jury process doesn't screw this one up.
Posted by: matlaw at July 16, 2009 9:52 AM
The only thing that is going to the UK - one of our most important and stalwart allies, I might add - is the architectural fee. Granted that is a nice chunk of change but it's not $120M by a long shot. And it's not even the full architectural fee. It's less than half. Foster will have to work with a local, California licensed architect who acts as the architect of record and who will produce the contract documents and do the contract administration, which is where the bulk of the fee goes.
The complaining firms just have their noses out of joint. First we have Botta (Swiss) getting SFMOMA, then Aulenti (Italian) getting the Asian Arts Museum then Herzog and de Meuron (more Swiss) getting the de Young, then Piano (more Italians) getting the California Academy. And now these Brits. It's enough to make a local architect weep.
They are also more than a little short sighted. They probably do not have a whole lot of work right now and could use a nice job like this. Well, guess what firms have created enough bad feeling to make it highly unlikely that they even get considered for that lucrative, local associate architect position.
Posted by: salarywoman at July 16, 2009 10:39 AM
Since the GSA is doing this I don't think we (as in SF Planning) have ANY input on the design. That's the only way we can get cutting-edge architecture in this town! You think the new Federal Building would have ever been approved if it were up to SF Planning?
Posted by: Eric in SF at July 16, 2009 10:40 AM
The only thing lost will be the architectural design fees, and there will definitely be a local firm handling a good portion of that anyway. It will likely be all local consulting engineers and construction. Use of local materials is a different story.
Posted by: the NOB at July 16, 2009 10:43 AM
I just had a brilliant idea to improve the architecture in SF -- turn a huge chunk of buildings and empty lots over to the Feds and let the GSA remodel and develop them!
OK, we reserve a few lots for Saitowitz and Fougie, maybe, but as subcontractors to the GSA, avoiding all SF bureaucracy!
OK, so maybe this would be a tough sell in SF. I think I'll pitch this to Detroit.
Posted by: Kurt Brown at July 16, 2009 11:16 AM
Apparently we had to go out of country (let alone city or state) to find an architectural firm that can grok a curve, arch, or non-90 degree angle.
BTW, http://www.fosterandpartners.com does have a rather impressive portfolio.
Posted by: Delancey at July 16, 2009 11:51 AM
Isn't it illegal for any entity receiving Bail Out Money, to hire Companies and Contractors outside the USA ?
My good friend's firm recently turned down an H1-B worker after interviewing him for 6 rounds for a tech job in Financial Services because the Firm interviewing him to hire him had received Bailout Money. The guy was not given an offer solely because he was from an Offshore company on H1-B.
So this just does not make sense. How did this company get around that, if they indeed did receive Bailout Money ???
Posted by: Chad at July 16, 2009 2:26 PM
Stimulus and TARP monies have different rules.
Posted by: flaneur at July 16, 2009 2:33 PM
Forster and Partners is a wonderful firm. Politics aside, I'm intrigued as to what they'll do with this site.
They've done some MARVELOUS things (that I've seen) including:
-the Hearst Headquarters that everybody loved so much on socketsite that they were hoping would happen in SF (the modern on top of the old)
-Smithsonian renovation with a wicked cool roof (not sure if they came up with that roof but it is COOL)
In France they built the viaduct de Millau, a very cool bridge, and also the Musee de Prehistoire, a really cool building.
in England they built/reinvisioned the courtyard of the British Museum, again wicked cool.
there are some things that I'm not sure about, like City Hall in London. i think it jars too much on the outside, but the inside is awesome. and other projects I'm not super big on, but I'm sure others love...
I'm sure there are other things that I haven't seen. And someone linked their website above. Look through it there are some COOL buildings.
if the govt let's them go wild I would not be surprised if something special happens.
Forster is the real deal IMO.
this ends your local advertising stint for Forster. ;)
Posted by: ex SF-er at July 16, 2009 2:59 PM
@flaneur Stimulus and TARP monies have different rules.
Doesn't matter even if those two are different.
Both "Stimulus" and "TARP" (if they are indeed different) apply restrictions on foreign hiring.
So clearly '50 UN Plaza' Executives are Voilating some/all of the Terms under which their took the Tax Payer Handout $$$$ !
Maybe. But does either of allow the US Tax Payer's $$$ to be spent on non-US initiatives ? Me thinks not.
Posted by: Chad at July 16, 2009 4:05 PM
It's not in the US's interests to be protectionist, and thankfully WTO regulations somewhat prevent the US from doing so.
Posted by: Amen Corner at July 16, 2009 6:44 PM
I was wondering if they'd done the new roof and court of the BM, now I know. It's even better in person, especially in the cafe during a long day of touristing:
But, the UN Plaza project is just an interior renovation of office space and is a bit lower profile than the BM ("we loot the world") so we should probably temper our expectations.
Posted by: Delancey at July 16, 2009 7:37 PM
This is a similar project they did in the UK.
Posted by: flaneur at July 16, 2009 10:25 PM
@Chad: The article states "The Recovery Act that guides stimulus spending does not state that design and construction work must go to American firms, only that the building materials such as steel have to be produced in the states."
There's a difference between money being spent on "bailout" activities, which are typically targeted at specific companies (most of which are in the financial services sector) and money going into the general stimulus which is basically a mandate to have government departments spend more money on doing stuff. Both the links you gave refer to restrictions on the former whereas this project is a case of the later.
It's worth noting that like San Francisco, Berlin is not exactly short of good architects, but Fosters still got the job to do the Reichstag. A very good job they did too!
Posted by: Nick at July 17, 2009 8:11 PM