Construction is an exercise in frugality and compromise. To see their work realized, architects have to juggle the demands of developers, contractors, clients, engineers—sometimes even governments. The resulting concessions often leave designers with a bruised ego and a dissatisfying architectural result. While these architects always do their best to rectify any problems, some disputes get so heated that the architect feels they have no choice but to walk away from their own work. Here are 6 of the most notable examples:
1. Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
While now widely considered one of the most iconic examples of 20th-century architecture, Jorn Utzon’s stunning Sydney Opera House emerged despite a bitter conflict with the New South Wales government and Utzon’s eventual resignation. Utzon’s relationship with Sydney’s Minister for Public Works Davis Hughes was extremely contentious. When Utzon wouldn’t budge on his intricate wooden window, corridor, and seating designs, Hughes scoffed and labeled the architect an “impractical dreamer.” As the ensuing battle between vision and budget worsened, Utzon, who infamously referred to the debacle as “Malice in Blunderland,” dramatically quit. He never returned to Australia, and never saw the completed Opera House in person.
2. Copenhagen Opera House, Copenhagen, Denmark
Danish architect Henning Larsen didn’t know what he signed up for when he agreed to design Copenhagen’s newest opera venue for client Maersk McKinney Møller. Møller, cofounder of shipping conglomerate Maersk would entirely fund the $500 million building, giving him total control over Larsen. The two repeatedly bickered over most of the projects details. The most controversial element was Møller’s insistence on metal ribbons of the facade, strangely resembling a radiator grill of a midcentury American car. Larsen even threatened to quit the project, but never went through, fearing a lawsuit from Møller. By the time the building opened in 2004, Larson had called the project “a failed compromise” that resembles “a toaster,” and before his death in 2013 he made further attempts to distance himself from the project, including a 2009 exposé on the building’s construction titled You Should Say Thank You: A Historical Document about the Opera.
3. Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Los Angeles, California
In 2014, Zoltan Pali of Culver City-based SPF Architects resigned from his collaboration with Renzo Piano on the new Academy Museum, currently under construction next to LACMA in Los Angeles. The complicated project essentially amounts to an ambitious theater orb tacked on to the back of the renovated 1930s May Company Building, which Pali was already in charge of the renovating when Piano was brought on to design the orb in 2012. When Pali bowed out, The Hollywood Reporter uncovered internal conflict between the two architects; however, this conflict was denied by the museum itself.
4. Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, Ithaca, New York
This peculiar structure was the work of famed British architect James Stirling and his partner Michael Wilford. What was supposed to be Cornell University’s grandest venue ended up a homely hodgepodge due to unexpected rises in cost and awkward changes. The difficulties associated with the site’s proximity to a gorge meant the original grand lobby had to be nixed in favor of a downsized side entrance. What was meant to be a heroic veneer of brick and limestone was substituted for tan stucco and cheap marble. The Schwartz now amounts to a confused, underused facility, with both architects expressing frustration and dissatisfaction with the finished project.
5. Città delle Culture Museum, Milan, Italy
David Chipperfield exonerated himself from his $60-million museum for Milan shortly before its opening in 2015. After the architect expressed discontentment with the cost cutting stone flooring used, a highly publicized battle ensued. When Culture Minister Filippo Del Corno insisted the Chipperfield was an unreasonable architect to work with, he responded by claiming that the flooring turned the building into a “museum of horrors.”
6. Philharmonie de Paris, Paris, France
Also in 2015, renowned French architect Jean Nouvel not only sought to legally divorce himself from Paris’s newest concert hall, he actually boycotted the opening. “The architecture is martyred, the details sabotaged” Nouvel lamented in an editorial for French newspaper Le Monde about the behind schedule, over-budget monstrosity. While the building has been praised for its exceptional acoustic properties, the exterior remains a butchered interpretation of Nouvel’s intentions. The architect was so distraught that he claimed his client held a genuine “contempt for architecture, for the profession and for the architect of the most important French cultural program of the new century.”