San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum sues architect and construction company behind new $38m pavilion


San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum is suing Why Architects and Swinerton Builders over a $38m museum addition designed by the firm and built by the construction company. The museum announced the lawsuit in a press release on 25 September, saying that the legal action follows a claim filed against the museum in 2021 by Swinerton. The “cross-complaint is for damages due to breach of contract as well as indemnity and defence against claims brought by Swinerton”, the press release states, noting that the museum “takes this action only after extensive efforts to resolve the matter amicably, including through mediation”.

The suit stems from the design and construction of the Asian Art Museum’s new pavilion, “a key component of a multi-year programme to transform the museum’s visitor experience and extend the life of its century-old, landmark Civic Center home”.

In 2016, the museum hired Why and Swinerton for the project, which was completed in 2020. However, the museum claims, “it was delivered late, and as originally constructed, it failed to meet even the minimum museum-quality standards: it leaked in multiple locations, its interior environment was of inadequate quality and its rooftop terrace was unusable”. As a result, the museum had to pay the “significant cost” of identifying and repairing these issues.

“The fundamental question to be resolved in the action is who must pay for those costly repairs and interventions,” the museum’s statement continues. “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.”

With the museum stuck in the middle, a lawsuit appeared to be its best course of action in order to recoup repair costs. The same day that the museum issued this press release, it also announced the official opening of its new East West Bank Art Terrace, which Why Architects (and, presumably, Swinerton) had worked on.

This is far from the first time a cultural institution has sued the architects and builders of its own project years after completion. Earlier in 2023, the City of New York sued the architects of a new public library in Queens (completed in 2019) for not adhering to accessibility standards in its design. Meanwhile, in Whitehorse, Canada, the MacBride Museum sued the architecture firm and building contractor of its expansion project (completed in 2018) over a leak in the new roof that put its artefacts at risk.


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