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Foster + Partners Hit With £3.6M Court Ruling

Monday, October 30, 2017

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A United Kingdom High Court earlier this month handed down a bill of 3.6 million pounds ($4.7 million) to the region's largest architecture firm, Foster + Partners, in a case revolving around budget numbers on a major hotel project. The plaintiff’s lawyer said the case should serve as a reminder to architects that they “cannot design in a vacuum.”

What Happened

In 2007, Foster + Partners was commissioned to design plans for a hotel near London's Heathrow Airport for developer Riva Properties. Owner John Dhanoa says the firm had been informed that the initial budget for the property was 70 million pounds.

© / Marilyn Nieves

A United Kingdom High Court earlier this month has handed down a bill of 3.6 million pounds to the regions’ largest architecture firm Foster + Partners. The plaintiff’s lawyer said the case should serve as a reminder to architects that they “cannot design in a vacuum.”


However, in 2008, the design for the seven-story, 600-bed, five-star hotel landed at 195 million pounds. At that point, Dhanoa agree to increase the budget to 100 million pounds, after Foster said that project could be value-engineered down to that value.

The design included seven additional underground floors, conference and leisure facilities, a bowling alley and parking, all in a village theme and set in a layered glass shell, a plan for optimal daylight for the public spaces.

“The rooms are contained within six pavilions,” the project's description said, “linked by bridges and wrapped in a unifying glass envelope, which acts as a barrier to aircraft noise. The entrance lobby has a floating glass deck with views down to the sunken restaurant level, shallow pool and waterfall."

Dhanoa ended up not being able to secure funding and later discovered that the design could not have possibly been value engineered that low.

At that point, Dhanoa could not build the scheme that Foster had designed, more than double the initial budget, and the developer had already sunk approximately 4 million pounds into the project in professional fees alone (much of that money paid to Foster), which was the point of the lawsuit.

The Case

Dhanoa alleged three breaches of the architect’s duty to “exercise reasonable care and skill,” including contentions that:

  • The firm failed to carry out its legal obligations in the design, which include sticking to the budget;
  • The firm wrongly advised the developer that the design could be value-engineered to meet the revised budget; and 
  • The firm failed to warn the developer that the project would go over budget.

During the 11-day trial, Foster claimed in its defense that not been informed of the initial budget and denied saying the design could be value-engineered.

The judge ruled in favor of Riva for all three allegations.


After the ruling, Foster + Partners released a statement, reading: “We are shocked and disappointed by the judgment. We do, however, take the judge’s comments seriously and are undertaking a review led by our independent directors, supported by Travers Smith, an independent law firm, to see what lessons or actions should be taken from this case.”

Dhanoa’s lawyer, Stephen Homer of Ashfords LLP, said: “This case serves as a warning to designers that they cannot design in a vacuum. Cost and budget is a key constraint and should always be identified and considered when designing any project, even when the provision of cost advice is expressly excluded from the designer's obligations.”


Tagged categories: Architects; Budget; Developers; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Good Technical Practice; Laws and litigation

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