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An unfortunate affair

Opinion - 3XN boss Kim Nielsen gives his side of the story after being dropped from the New Museum of Liverpool

Looking back on the process, I am convinced that the unfortunate affair of our practice’s involvement on the New Museum of Liverpool project can be summed up by one question: What is the architect supposed to do when a client will not respect his architectural responsibility? To expand on this, how can the architect perform his expertise, i.e. giving advice on the design of the building, if the client adopts a practice of micromanagement, insisting on signing off all drawings themselves? How can the architect perform when the client, against the advice of the architect, makes significant changes in the design agreed to by all parties? How can team spirit be established if advisors, project managers and contractors are replaced several times, and the parties are not allowed to interact and cooperate as professionals?

On 29 October 2007, my co-partners Kim Christiansen, Bo Boje Larsen and I were summoned to a meeting with our client on the New Museum of Liverpool project, National Museums Liverpool (NML), supposedly represented by the board of trustees. According to the agenda, we were supposed to discuss some details in the design warranties, progress on the site, and the way forward. On our arrival, however, we were met not by the trustees but by the director of NML, the financial director, and the museum’s solicitors. We were informed that 3XN was to be taken off the project with immediate effect. We were given no explanation and were asked to immediately hand over drawings and documents – even the keys to the locks on the building site.

For us, this instance ended a period of frustration, as we had tried to share our own concerns with the museum management for quite some time. However, we had understood that neither party would speak with the press. We were therefore surprised when, on 12 November 2007, a journalist contacted me enquiring about the termination of our services. He had been informed by a NML spokesperson that NML had ‘contracted the Manchester-based architect, AEW’, our subadvisor, to ‘deliver the detailed design for the Museum of Liverpool’.

NML was quoted as saying that this arrangement represented ‘the best value for money, ensuring that the project remains on schedule and to budget’, thus implying that 3XN could not be trusted to ensure the same. This left us with no choice other than to issue a press release stating that throughout the entire process, we had done our utmost to ensure that all architectural solutions were kept within the economic framework.

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