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Asian Art Museum Sues WHY Architects and Swinerton Builders


Tim Hallman                                                 


[email protected]


September 25, 2023, SAN FRANCISCO — Today, the Asian Art Museum Foundation of San Francisco (the “Foundation”) started the process to file a cross-complaint against WHY Architecture Workshop Inc. (“WHY”) in a San Francisco County Superior Court action originally initiated by Swinerton Builders (“Swinerton”) in December 2021. The Foundation’s cross-complaint is for damages due to breach of contract as well as indemnity and defense against claims brought by Swinerton against the Foundation. The Foundation takes this action only after extensive efforts to resolve the matter amicably, including through mediation.

The action relates to the design and construction of the Asian Art Museum’s Pavilion, a privately funded addition that the Foundation donated to the City-owned museum. The Pavilion is a key component of a multiyear program to transform the museum’s visitor experience and extend the life of its century-old, landmark Civic Center home. In 2016, the Foundation hired WHY as its professional architect and Swinerton as its general contractor, entrusting them both with this important project.

The Pavilion is now completed, providing an unparalleled visitor experience and functioning as a vital resource to the art and cultural community. However, it didn’t start that way. 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. It was only through substantial intervention by the Foundation, at its own significant cost, that these major issues were identified and corrected, and a first-class, museum-quality Pavilion was finally achieved. 

The fundamental question to be resolved in the action is who must pay for those costly repairs and interventions. 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. The Foundation is trapped in the middle. The Foundation’s aim is to ensure that, as the non-profit operator of the museum on behalf of the City of San Francisco, it recovers all of its losses incurred to overcome inexcusable project delays and to correct the project’s many deficiencies. 

Most importantly, the Foundation’s fundamental principle is to honor the goodwill and original intent of hundreds of generous donors, whose gifts serve to enhance an iconic public institution and support the museum’s efforts to provide meaningful art and cultural experiences to our communities — now, and for generations to come.