Friday, October 14, 2005

New Column, with new Extra-Spicy Controversy!

my column has caused a bit of trouble; details forthcoming. In the interests of free speech, here is the original:

New Kingsbury Hall "Severely Flawed"
Recent Construction Reveals Serious Design Problems

Tom "The Concrete Block" Olson

SKANSKA, the company managing the extensive renovations and expansions at Kingsbury Hall, has been forced to answer a number of unpleasant questions recently. Documents obtained by The New Hampshire's investigative team reveal that a number of university organizations, including CEPS and possibly an undisclosed "high level" administrative office, have been privately communicating with SKANSKA.

These documents, mostly emails between SKANSKA and the university, show that university officials have expressed "serious concerns" regarding allegedly serious flaws in the new construction.

First among these is the presence of several odd angles in roofs and walls throughout the new structure. Most egregious of these according to the emails is the "strangely-shaped roof" of the building's southern edifice. According to the mailings, the "long, shallow angle" of the roof is "seemingly a serious construction flaw, for there could be no rational or aesthetic reason for such a shape." These strange and sometimes very sharp angles seemingly occur in several places around the building, and are so glaring that one email wonders if the construction workers were "engaged in some kind of prank."

According to several university officials who spoke with us on condition of anonymity, there are other concerns as well. Some worry about about some kind of unreported budget shortfall, as a number of "naked steel girders and bare concrete walls" are visible around the new building, despite claims by workers that such visibility is intentional. "I just can't believe that," said one source, "I hate to say it, but I suspect that they must've run out of money for bricks to cover up the steel parts and finish the concrete." The source also expressed similar doubts about "intentional" dramatic overhangs.

Evidently, these features, if they really are errors, could be costly to the project as a whole. According to UNH Professor of Accounting Jill Bohr, the strange design could have been made "nearly 15% more efficient for the same price, or else offered the same usable space for about 10% less money." Given that the project is costing over $50 million, that means the design wastes approximately $5 million.

SKANSKA was quick to defend itself, both in private communications and during a press release given later. SKANSKA stated in the release that, "We can prove that our work exactly matches the plans we received from Roth [Partners Architects, Inc]. It's our job to construct the building as it is designed, and those designs went through an extensive review process, which included university administration and members of the community. We're confident that this building, with its bizaare exposed structural elements and strange angles that produce wasted space, is what we were asked to build."Rothman, the firm responsible for the architecture of the building, was quick to defend its work as intentional and not some kind of error. "We designed it that way on purpose," they said, continuing, "No, it doesn't provide any functional benefit, and no, it doesn't look very good, and yes, it does waste construction materials and plenty of money. But darn it, we're an avante-garde architectural firm focusing on the latest, most trendy architectural thought, regardless of how 'ugly' or 'crooked' the result may seem to the unwash--er, the uneducated."

Paulien & Associates, a consulting firm hired to help plan the Kingsbury renovations, also defended its role in the process. Daniel K. Paulien said recently in an interview, "Let me assure you that their designs reflect the the lastest in postmodern design. Your need for straight lines and right angles reflects a passe, modernist attachment to conformity and unity which is sadly backward. We wanted to break out of the old ways, not because we had any better ideas, but because we make more money if people think we are doing something revolutionary or innovative."

His partner, Donald J. Associates, agreed wholeheartedly, adding that "We've found that this practice garners high fees regardless of whether or not the innovation is warranted or not. Let's face it, my new Mercedes ML350 isn't going to pay for itself!"

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