This is a sad story that will not serve France, nor its reputation, nor that of its architects who build since the 1950s the most beautiful buildings in the world. Jean Nouvel, to whom we owe almost 200 achievements on five continents – the Institute of the Arab World in Paris, the Dentsu Buliding of Tokyo, the Agbar tower of Barcelona, the Louvre of Abu Dhabi, the theater Guthrie of Minneapolis or the Ferrari plant in Modena, Italy – has just been notified of a penalty of more than 170 million euros for failing to comply with the specifications of the Philharmonie, the concert hall of La Villette which he had the idea and which was inaugurated in January 2015. It is imputed almost all the extra cost of a building whose budget went from 173 million euros in 2006 to 386 million when it opened. In spring 2017, the public institution in charge of the Philharmonie sent this crazy invoice to Ateliers Jean Nouvel. This request was then confirmed by "enforceable title" in September 2017. No conciliation seemed conceivable, the architect filed a complaint on October 14 for "concussion" and "favoritism" against the Philharmonie de Paris. The firm "vigorously" challenges the financial demand and considers it "exorbitant" and "unjustified". The architect delivers his share of truth and reveals the underside of the cards of a dark and ruinous affair.
Read also Philharmonie, instructions for use
The Point: Jean Nouvel, how did we get here?
Jean Nouvel : This is the deliberate desire of the Philharmonie's leaders to conceal the true cost of the extremely ambitious program they dreamed of building. Article 1 of the Philharmonie program announces "an exceptional architecture" which "is not limited to the excellence of the concert hall", the program insists on "placing its concert hall at the most successful level in the concert hall". world and aspires to become an international reference »and asks for" a strong signal ". That's why she organized an international competition of architects. That's what I tried to answer. The Philharmonie has deliberately underestimated the cost of the program from the beginning, as denounced by the Court of Accounts, and persisted at all stages, without ever questioning its ambitions. The architect in the competition makes a sketch and a provisional estimate. Specifically, the first thing ANA did was to ask the project owner to reduce the program to get closer to the budget. The Philharmonie refused and instead increased the program. Today, on the one hand, the Philharmonie has achieved what it wanted, an exceptional musical complex with a fully adaptable 2,400-seat hall that can accommodate up to 3,400 people, considered one of the best in the world, with many rehearsal equipment, exhibition, office, pedagogy, restaurants … They also have recognition. But, on the other hand, she still does not want to ensure the real price of her project and therefore she wants me to wear the hat of their drifts, to avoid having to recognize them. I can not accept it.
Do you recognize a responsibility in exceeding the delivery date of the building?
Any. Deadlines began to slip because of the owner's decisions and only. The Philharmonie initially stalled during the study phase on the terms of procurement of works. She originally wanted a PPP (public-private partnership), and then abandoned that solution. This lost several months. Then she decided to negotiate for nearly two years with Bouygues, without competition, by removing services essential to the proper functioning of the building. I proposed immediately after the delivery of offers deemed unsuccessful to restart a call for tenders in separate lots. We would have saved a lot of time. The regional chamber of accounts reports in its 2015 report that "the most important delay came from the duration of the negotiations with the Bouygues group". Then the Philharmonie decided to withdraw Bouygues responsibility for the delay and coordination of work, again to artificially lower the price, which is about 20%, but makes no provision to compensate for this lack of guarantee of the company. It has thus paved the way for all slippages on the site. It refused to establish contractual terms and conditions that were essential for the period to be met, as I requested. In the field, the Philharmonie distributed inconsistent orders, such as the control of the frame, before receiving the technical confirmation of the estimate of the real weight that these beams could support! And coincidentally, the frame is delivered non-compliant, which has still lost months. For my part, I did everything to keep the deadline. We studied in record time of fifteen months. During the construction site, to make up for Bouygues' delay, I simplified many books, such as the acoustic reliefs of the room, or the huge glass roof that was planned and that I suppressed, to reduce the time needed for construction and costs of the second work. The room could not have been opened in time without these interventions.
What is the 170.6 million euros in penalties while your fees were around ten million?
This incredible amount, equivalent to the amount originally planned for the total investment of the project, is a compilation of disparate sums with at the heart of the system, nearly 100 M €, penalties for alleged delays in controlling business plans. The contracting authority has unilaterally set up a crazy machine, which accounts for false delays. They were able to count us more than a million days late, more than two millennia! Companies file plans without planning, or uncoordinated or even empty, impossible to control, on a computer server that counts an automatic delay. The crazy machine accumulates € 100 per plan and per day late. More than 21,000 plans have been released. I am the only one to be penalized in this way. For companies, it's 100 €, whatever the number of days! However, the company has accumulated according to this same infernal machine more than 7 million days late, 7 times more than us, what the experts noted! If a company, as it happened, gives me a sample of carpet to be aimed in the first days of the building site, when it is not at all the moment, the infernal machine gives me up to 100,000 euros of penalties after three years, when you really have to choose the carpet! In the end, I pay the carpet! This machine did the same thing for empty planes, obsolete plan indices, plans not to be targeted. The Philharmonie also asks me to pay 39 million euros of additional work. She asks me to pay for work that she herself ordered! She also asks me to pay for her overcrowded teams and her assistants who have no responsibility in the act of building. She asks me to pay her interference! It should be noted that the Philharmonie has spent more money to finance its teams than for the project management, the regional chamber of accounts (CRC) noted. While the totality of the project management (architects, engineers and acousticians) is remunerated 20,824 M €, the Philharmonie spent 28,484 M € for its teams according to the regional chamber of accounts, paid by the taxpayer. It's new!
You have built nearly 200 buildings around the world including prestigious music halls (Lucerne, Copenhagen, Minneapolis …). Has such a mishap ever happened to you?
Never ! The vast majority of my clients welcome my work and ask me to work with them again. I have had no trial with my clients before. Most have become my friends.
Do you think you are the object of a settlement of accounts?
I am the scapegoat appointed by the Philharmonie to mop up all his faults and lies. It's so easy to say that the architect is a capricious artist. It's a cliche slander. The architect guarantees the respect of the program and budgets. I have always exercised my professional duty by asking the Philharmonic to adjust its program to its budget, which it refused. The irresponsibility on the price is on the side of the Philharmonie. It is the president of the Philharmonie who wanted the most beautiful auditorium of the world!
Does this business endanger your business?
Absolutely. The attitude of the Philharmonie in this affair is an enormous financial loss. The Philharmonic has thrown upon my work a very prejudicial discredit. And in addition she wanted to intimidate me and muzzle me. AJN has been in the process of safeguarding since 2016 and it is obviously not unrelated to the way the Philharmonie treated me. For orders and contests related to major cultural projects, this discredit is a ball. All my other owners support me. I thank them. I am optimistic and continue my work.
What are you going to do ?
Continue to fight to establish the truth about the conditions of this project, to save the workshops Jean Nouvel and the machine to create that it represents, to try to make repair the building and to defend the right to architect more and more manhandled.