After Building put its foot in it with the 10 ‘disastrous’ building projects, our readers kick back
In “The top 10 most disastrous building projects in the world ever” (11 February, page 54), you suggest that these were projects that “everyone involved regretted signing up for”. I have to say that in my research for my book The Saga of Sydney Opera House I met nobody who felt like that. Although everyone regretted the traumas of its delivery, they were proud of their involvement in the creation of one of the great buildings of the world. The exception might have been Peter Hall, the architect who took over from Jørn Utzon, whose career and spirit could not survive the antagonism generated by the political arguments that surrounded the project. He died, a broken man, in 1995.
The sentence “finally, it was discovered that the concrete columns wouldn’t support the roof” needs clarification. This happened early on in the project. Because of political pressures to get the job under way, and against the advice of its consultants, the New South Wales government insisted work start on site. The columns were designed and built before Utzon had completed the design of the famous roofs. When he changed from a shell structure to the ribbed version, the size of columns had to be increased - a process that involved dynamiting work that had already been carried out.
I was surprised that the opera house did not receive a few symbols for “costs” (it rose from $6m to $100m) or for “headaches” - the structural problems stretched the architect and engineers to the limit. Utzon never sorted out the acoustics and was unable to fit in the requisite number of seats.
Credit for the last two items should go to the oft-maligned Peter Hall.
Peter Murray, Wordsearch
As a publication that has been vociferous about the need to improve the death rate of workers in the construction sector, can you please explain how the cost and time overruns on the top two projects in the list can be considered more important than the numerous deaths that incurred with the third-placed project, the Chateau de Versailles?
Sarah Griffiths, Hays Executive
I was project director for the project management firm on the Millennium Stadium and find it extraordinary that you can include it in your list of the 10 most disastrous projects of all time. Yes, Laing suffered a large financial loss, but consider the following:
- The project was completed in two years, and precisely on time to host the opening ceremony of the 1999 Rugby World Cup. Perhaps you might like to reconsider the strap line you attached in your article to this project, “A rather delayed kick off”. You may also wish to compare the programme with Wembley.
- A 73,000-seat stadium (considered by most to be the finest rugby ground in the world) was built in a city centre for £126m, or £150m if you include Laing’s losses. Incidentally, this included significant demolition and property acquisition costs! Again you may wish to compare this with Wembley.
- The client’s out-turn cost was almost precisely the same as the contract sum. Can any of the other nine disastrous projects boast of this? And keep in mind that this was a “one-off” client rather than a regular developer.
- There were exactly zero claims between client and main contractor.
- As I told the City of Manchester stadium people when they enquired about the contractor’s performance, Laing deserved massive credit for knuckling down and finishing this project despite its problems.
The project managers and client experienced the best of British contracting at work in difficult and challenging circumstances. I remember thinking a few months later that Ray O’Rourke had just secured the greatest bargain of all time!
Certainly the project management team, as well as the Laing people on the project (though perhaps not the estimating department or the boardroom), see it as a glorious success. The only failure at the Millennium Stadium was the England rugby team’s in the the 2005 Six Nations!
David Barry, Precept Group