San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum Says It Will Sue Architecture Firm of Its ‘Inadequate’ Expansion

The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco announced on Monday that it would take legal action against the architect of its expansion—an unusual move, given that many art institutions rarely comment at all on pending litigation, let alone make it public via a press release.

In that release, the museum said that its decision to commence legal action against the New York–based firm WHY derived from an ongoing legal saga over costs that resulted from the expansion. Swinerton, a contractor used on the project, has claimed it should not have to foot the bill for those costs for what the museum called “incomplete and inadequate plans prepared by WHY.”

A representative for WHY did not immediately respond to ARTnews’s request for comment.

The expansion, which was completed in 2020, just before the pandemic shut down the museum, added 13,000 square feet of space and cost $38 million.

Led by founder and creative director Kulapat Yantrasast, WHY is an art-world favorite architecture firm that has done buildings for David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles, the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture at the Riverside Art Museum in California, as well as galleries for the Harvard Art Museums and the Art Institute of Chicago and the tent for the Frieze Los Angeles art fair. It is now working on a fresh set of galleries for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s African and Oceanic art holdings.

According to the Asian Art Museum, WHY failed to fulfill the museum’s goals with the expansion project. The museum plans to join a lawsuit that was originally filed by Swinerton Builders against WHY in San Francisco County Superior Court in 2021; its suit is also to defend the Asian Art Museum Foundation of San Francisco, which manages the museum, against claims made by Swinerton in the firm’s original suit.

The expansion “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,” the museum’s announcement said. “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.”

Claiming that it has now been “trapped in the middle” of the dispute, the Asian Art Museum said that “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.”