Wrangles over doomed tower

Only legal bills rise as Foster + Partners' building falters

by Sian 22 November 2010

Harmon Hotel, a towering 670,000 sq ft hotel block in the much-anticipated Las Vegas CityCenter complex, is to be demolished – or so say the British press. Designed by Foster + Partners working with Adamson Associates Architects, the structure has recently been described by Bobby Baldwin, Chief Executive of CityCenter, as the company's 'biggest disappointment'.

With the exterior completed in 2009, Harmon Hotel sits uninhabited while court battles rage over its supposed 'lack of constructability'. Slated to open in late 2010, designs for the Harmon Hotel included 400 high-end guestrooms and suites, 17,500 sq ft of advanced event space and a Frederic Fekkai hair salon. Due to intense debates over structural inadequacies the building's shell has since been utilised as an advertising mechanism, with slogans for Las Vegas shows plastered across its highly reflective glass façade.

WAN's US Correspondent, Sharon McHugh, reported in February 2009 that 21 floors of condominiums were to be scrapped from the apex of the tower, reducing its height from 49 to 28 storeys. With the imposing ARIA Resort and Casino, Crystals™ retail complex and Mandarin Oriental hotel and spa cushioning the Harmon Hotel on all sides, it was hoped that the stunted building would go on to act as a gateway for the $9.2bn CityCenter complex; this vision has been cut short yet again.

The ruckus began a year ago when it was discovered that steel reinforcements had been wrongly installed on 15 floors of the building by Perini Building Company's subcontractor, Pacific Coast Steel. It later emerged that a third-party inspection team – Converse Consultants – had missed these blunders and falsified 62 reports in 5 months, with all inspectors involved either having their qualifications revoked or suspended as a result.

There seems to be some confusion over the future of the Harmon Hotel as it currently stands, with British paper The Sunday Times reporting 'developers admitted last week they are preparing to demolish it with explosives and start again from scratch', whilst local newswire The Las Vegas Sun explains 'Perini [the main contractor] maintains the structure can be fixed' and Fox 5 News suggests 'any talk of imploding the Harmon is premature until the court makes a ruling [as to who is at fault], expected sometime in 2012'.

When WAN approached Foster + Partners, we were informed that: “The client has not officially informed [Foster + Partners] of the demolition. The constructability issues of the design drawings refer to the structural engineer drawings and not Foster + Partners design drawings. F+P are not involved in the legal wranglings.” This statement conflicts with those given by The Sunday Times, which suggests that 'Foster's design has contributed to the fiasco', an accusation the firm fiercely denies.

A game of 'pass the buck' seems fully underway, as the President of general contractor Perini Building Co., Craig Shaw released a statement some months ago which read: “Perini stands by its opinion that design conflicts contributed to the Harmon Hotel structural issues and that portions of the structural drawings, as designed and permitted, contained elements of reinforcing steel that could not be installed as drawn.”

Structural engineers Halcrow Yolles had not responded to comment requests at the time of going to press.

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