wHY Architects faces legal action involving Asian Art Museum Pavilion in San Francisco

Bring in the Suits

wHY Architects faces legal action involving Asian Art Museum Pavilion in San Francisco

Asian Art Museum Pavilion by WHY Architects (Courtesy Asian Art Museum)

New York firm wHY Architects is being sued over an addition the office designed for San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum (AAM), completed in 2020. Yesterday, the Asian Art Museum Foundation of San Francisco announced in a press release that it has “started the process to file a cross-complaint” against the architecture firm in a San Francisco County Superior Court. Legal action was first initiated by the project’s building contractors Swinerton Builders in December 2021.

The potential suit involves three parties: the architects (“WHY”); Asian Art Museum Foundation of San Francisco (the “Foundation”); and Swinerton Builders (“Swinerton”). The case involves a slew of building deficiencies which presented themselves shortly after the Pavilion’s construction concluded. The move to take formal legal action follows several failed attempts to resolve the matter amicably.

A press release shared by the museum stated that the “cross-complaint is for damages due to breach of contract as well as indemnity and defense against claims brought by Swinerton against the Foundation.”

“We acknowledge that litigation is a process and look forward to defending our hard work on the AAM project,” wHY Architects said in a statement provided to AN. “wHY is proud of its design, and we are confident that all issues at AAM were caused by construction failures and were not the fault of the design professionals. We have no further comment at this time.”

wHY Architects joined the project to design an expansion to the institution’s existing Beaux Arts–era building in 2016. Upon completion in 2020, the Pavilion, according to a statement from the museum, “leaked in multiple locations, its interior environment was of inadequate quality, and its rooftop terrace was unusable.” All of which hindered it from functioning as a “first-class, museum-quality” pavilion.

After a costly refurbishment to remedy the building’s deficiencies, both the builder and the architect claim that each other is responsible for the issues. The Foundation, who raised the money, is caught in the middle in its obligation to donors. The original design and construction of the Asian Art Museum Pavilion was privately funded by donations raised by the Asian Art Museum Foundation of San Francisco and gifted to the City-owned museum.

“The fundamental question to be resolved in the action is who must pay for those costly repairs and interventions,” a press release from the museum stated. “Swinerton claims that it is not responsible, and points to what it contends were incomplete and inadequate plans prepared by WHY. WHY denies those claims, and asserts that Swinerton failed to follow WHY’s designs and basic, standard construction practices. The Foundation is trapped in the middle. The Foundation’s aim is to ensure that, as the non-profit operator of the museum on behalf of the City of San Francisco, it recovers all of its losses incurred to overcome inexcusable project delays and to correct the project’s many deficiencies.”

In the press release, Asian Art Museum Foundation of San Francisco stated “We will not be making further comment at this time.”

Correction: This article has been updated to include a statement from wHY Architects.