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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Berlin Airport Project on a Par with the Big Dig ?


It's too early to say, since Big Dig defects continue to surface, and Willy Brandt Airport is still being constructed. In any case, as Sven Roebel and Andreas Wassermann report in their DER SPIEGEL article, "Incompetence and Naiveté Behind Berlin Airport Delay":
With the opening of Berlin's new airport delayed at least until next spring, a legal battle has erupted over damages and responsibility. Court documents reveal that the architectural firm behind the project emphasized appearance and gave short shrift to vital operational details.   
...the multi-billion euro project [has been] plagued... by sloppy planning and construction delays. Furthermore, the project faces potential damages claims worth at least €80 million ($98 million). Lawyers around Germany are currently poring over a complaint the airport operator filed against architectural firm gmp in mid-June at the regional court in Potsdam, capital of the state of Brandenburg where the airport is located.
The myriad documents on the case, which together fill a good half dozen binders, read like a recipe for disaster. They suggest that by the spring of 2009, airport officials were aware of significant problems, including the fire safety issues which ultimately ended up forcing the opening date back to next spring. The documents also detail notifications of defects filed by the airport operator. These should have served early on to raise a red flag for the project's supervisory board, which includes Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit and Brandenburg Governor Matthias Platzeck -- assuming the board was aware of the notifications at all.
If these documents are to be believed, the planning phase for the airport saw far too much emphasis on architectural design and too little on functionality. Particularly the terminal security and automated systems that are at the heart of this prestigious project are said to have suffered from this reversal of priorities, according to the complaint, which describes an "unnecessarily complex" concept designed according to "purely visual considerations," which proved to be "barely manageable" in its implementation.
All together, the complaint amounts to well over 1,000 pages and helps reconstruct the scandal around the airport whose true opening date it seems no one can predict. The internal documents, which include correspondence between the architects and the airport operator, as well as various records, contracts and expert reports, offer illuminating pieces of a puzzle that add up to a megalomaniac picture. They document the way the public was misled, and they tarnish the image of an icon in the world of architecture, Meinhard von Gerkan, who has contracts around the globe, but whose employees apparently weren't capable of applying the same diligence to technical details as they did to the artistic aspects of their design.

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