Architects: Architects designed leaky condos inside out

COLCO: Coalition of Leaky Condo Owners
www.myleakycondo.com

(2001)


Architects designed leaky condos inside out

By JAMES BALDERSON, COLCO

Richard Henriquez, Member of the Architectural Institute of B.C. (MAIBC), has made a valuable contribution toward understanding the creation of 50,000 leaky condos in British Columbia (Richard Henriquez, BCBusiness, January 2001, p.12).

Henriquez, age 59, confirmed that leading architects like himself are commonly employed by developers for their “design” capabilities and their prestige, in order to sell condos. Less expensive minion architects in other firms often do the working drawings, which, we have learned, are often incomplete.

COLCO has documented several such cases. For example, internationally famous Vancouver architect, Arthur Erickson MAIBC, born in 1924, designed an early concrete low-rise leaky condo on 7th Avenue. He recently designed a 1990’s leaky rotten condo project for disgraced lawyer and former B.C. Hydro chief John Laxton. The two leaky concrete and glass towers in the Coal Harbour area face a multi-million dollar repair bill.

Henriquez recently designed a Coal Harbour condo for Westbank, which swallowed Abbey Woods, which was part of the Kuok Group, which built leaky condos on unregulated leased native land in partnership with Takaya, a Burrard Band company headed by Chief Leonard George. Falsely advertised London Guarantee Warranties were used to market Takaya’s Raven Woods condo project.

Henriquez said that the developer’s vision, not the architect’s vision, drives the design of “functional aspects of the building.” The owners of leaky rotten condos designed by architects know exactly what Henriquez means. When the “functional aspects” of the building envelope fail to perform, the buyers get wet, the developer blames the designer, the designer blames the builder, and realtors blame inspectors but quickly offer to sell the condo again, for another fee.

Henriquez makes it very clear that when architects think about “owners”, the architects are referring to the developers, not condo buyers. He claims that architects can “always find ways of dealing with the [desires of developers who are motivated to maximize short-term profits] without compromising the owners.”

The insidious compromise of professional integrity by architects surfaced in public during the Barrett Commission inquiry into defective housing. The Commission and this writer heard testimony that architects reduced their fees for professional services and compromised their behaviour to such a low point that architects would declare projects complete even though they had not conducted professional field reviews to ensure the condos were built in accordance with the plans submitted to municipalities in order to get the building permits for the developers.

Not only did architects design the leaky condos inside out, they didn’t inspect the outside for leaks into the inside. Outside-inside leaks are often referred to as “rain penetration” or “moisture ingress” or “seepage and weepage”, or “building envelope failure.” Whatever the term, and there are many, about 50,000 B.C. homeowners get soaked for a billion dollars in repairs without compensation.

The power of developers over ethically weak architects was further exposed in the recent legal tangle between the City of Vancouver and the somewhat infamous developer Wall over the colour of glass being installed on the One Wall Centre Tower, which is actually the third Wall Centre Tower.

One Wall Centre is billed as “Canada’s tallest residential tower.” Wall made his One Wall Centre taller by transplanting unused tallness from the old Stanley Theatre on Granville to a site on a Burrard street hill. This type of vertical elongation operation is a lifelong dream opportunity moved from heady vision to reality by only a few elite developers. Vertical elongation by developers is promoted and admired by the architectural and development community. Psychosexual development analysts, however, see it as an expression of phallicism.

One Wall Centre was designed by leading Architect Peter Busby MAIBC, age 28 in 1980. Busby got city hall design and permit approvals for Wall based on clear glass, which was supposed to stay on the walls. When asked why the tower was being faced with black glass instead of clear glass, Busby explained that the developer, Wall, was paying the bills and Wall wanted black walls, and, further, that developers get the walls they want because developers pay the bills.

But in this unusual case, developer Wall didn’t get all he wanted. In an out-of-court compromise, Wall got two-thirds of his tower clad in black and the citizens of Vancouver got one-third of what Busby promised Wall would deliver to the city clad in silver clear glass. Wall prefers to wear black glasses in and out of his Rolls and has a history of developing leaky condos. He may not know the black walls look like the black slimy mould in leaky rotten condos. Meanwhile, far away from One Wall Centre, owners of leaky rotten condos wear dark glasses to guard against the blinding sunlight reflected into their homes from the top third of Wall’s edifice.

Reports of the glass walls on One Wall Centre splitting apart and crashing to the street below do not seem to have affected sales according to a recent advertisement which said: “With only 11 opportunities remaining, our homes speak for themselves. Hard hat tours now available.” Pedestrians, including this one, who just happened to be there on a gusty day without a hard hat after heavy glass crashed to the ground, wonder just what the homes are telling us.

Henriquez said that developers “put a lot of money into marble countertops and fancy kitchens because that’s what sells the product. And consequently they don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how it looks [and functions] from the outside. It’s designing inside out.”

Designing inside out has meant that outside rain gets inside. This faulty condo design and build process utilized by architects and developers has ruined the wonderful fantasy life promised by the developers in their advertisements. The promised “maintenance free, lock-up and go” life promoted by leaky rotten condo developers like Bosa (Nat, Robert, Jim and Dale) has meant a fast, slippery trip to poverty, foreclosure and bankruptcy for many condo buyers.

Judging by some of Vancouver’s award-winning leaky rotten condos designed by leading B.C. architects, the architectural profession and the building industry have cared more about inside-outside looks than performance since as early as 1982. That is when then not-so-famous but now internationally famous architect James Cheng MAIBC, age 38 in 1986, received an Architectural Institute award for his brick-clad leaky rotten condo on 7th Avenue in Vancouver. Meanwhile, the present owners of the condo project Cheng designed nearby on 8th Avenue for Michael Audain’s Polygon are preparing to strip, fix and pay for their inside-out stucco-clad leaky rotten condos, just like so many other unhappy owners of Polygon condos.

Architect Dale Staples MAIBC of Graham Crockart Architects, designers of leaky rotten condos for Polygon among others, may have been right, when, at age 43, he said: “Architects don’t really excel at their craft until the age of sixty-five.”

Our experiences with inside-out designs for leaky rotten condos indicate Staples may have been overly optimistic. Compromising professional integrity to please developers produces undesirable leaky rotten condos, whatever the architect’s age, which is private information, according to the Architectural Institute of B.C.