Beethoven Hall Bonn Crisis escalates as architects pull out
Bonn · The city administration is obviously trying to gloss over the dramatic situation. But for building planners to suspend their work is the worst thing that can happen on a construction site. What lies behind the architects' radical step.
A week ago, the commissioned architects stopped their work on the Beethovenhalle for the time being. The withdrawal from the stalled renovation also affects the subcontractor Leitwerk, which is responsible for on-site construction management. The background to this step, which may have caught Lord Mayor Katja Dörner cold, is a dispute over fees with Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos (NSA) from Berlin. In a crisis meeting the following day, Dörner agreed to further talks with the architects.
The city administration leaves questions about this largely unanswered, referring to confidential contractual matters. "The most important goal is to reach an understanding with NSA on the different positions and the fees in the next few weeks in order to avoid any direct impact on the work of the other project partners and the construction process," explained city spokeswoman Barbara Löcherbach. Here is an analysis of the situation.
Beethovenhalle in Bonn: What is the status on the construction site?
Since 2018, the planning and construction process has been disrupted. Both NSA and Kofler Energies Ingenieurgesellschaft mbH from Frankfurt, the planners of the technical building equipment (TGA) such as heating and air conditioning, are accused by the city of deficiencies and delays. In addition, both main planners are at loggerheads with each other. "The main causes of the disruptions are the planners' lack of preliminary work or the mutual reporting of concerns and obstructions," writes the Bonn Municipal Building Management (SGB) in a confidential submission dated May 2022.
According to this, the detailed implementation planning is still not ready and there is no binding schedule. Even the necessary update of the building permit (second tecture) is still missing, "which in particular has numerous deviations in fire protection as a subject of approval", as it says in the submission. Overall, conflicts "with regard to monument protection, fire protection and occupational safety" have not been "finally resolved". Other examples of pressing problems: The smoke extraction in the large hall has not been clarified, planned ventilators above the hall ceiling are too heavy, an electrical company has cancelled its contract due to a delay and must now be replaced by a new tender.
What is the Beethovenhalle fee dispute in Bonn about?
Both the architects and Kofler are demanding more money because of increased expenses. The city and council have caused much of this themselves by requesting changes. For example, a technical extension, a complete renewal of the building services and a new kitchen for the restaurant were added to the refurbishment originally commissioned from NSA for around 30 million euros. According to the GA, SGB is in dispute with the architects about the so-called conversion surcharge, the amount of the construction costs as the basis for calculating the fees and the additional costs for changes and repetitions of the planning. NSA alone is demanding 20.3 million euros instead of the originally approved 10.4 million euros, according to earlier city information.
Beethovenhalle Bonn: What's the deal with the ongoing arbitration proceedings?
The SGB has commissioned a legal expert to examine the planners' claim "on the merits". A fee expert is then to determine the sums. About a year after a corresponding council decision, however, there is still far from an arbitrator's decision. In April, the experts demanded further documents on the "chronology of the plan and presentation of the cost development since 2016". NSA was supposed to provide these, and the SGB was supposed to check and forward them. Whether this has been done two months later, the press office did not want to answer several GA questions.
Did the architects of the Beethovenhalle still cooperate at all?
According to the SGB, they did so "constructively", but with too few staff. However, there were "points of friction between the NSA and the subcontractor Leitwerk" about the staffing and quality of the construction management on site, the submission says.
How serious are the effects of the architects' departure on the Beethovenhalle construction site?
It could hardly be more serious. Even if the city administration obviously tried to conceal the true drama in its press release under the headline "Joint procedure agreed with architects' office": without site management and architects, practically nothing is going on at the construction site any more. Leitwerk used to manage all the processes on site as the contact point for all the specialist firms, and NSA supplied the necessary detailed plans.
In the non-public submission from May, this can be guessed at, even if it is about termination scenarios - it is not that far at the moment. About NSA and Kofler, the SGB writes: Upon separation from one of the main planners, "an immediate impediment (with immediate cessation of all activities of the other) occurs". Termination of the planners' contracts would "definitely lead to an immediate halt in construction“.
Even if the architects were to return within a few weeks, the completion date of April 2025 would probably have to be pushed back yet again. The costs also grow with each delay. The current forecast is already at 195 million euros - instead of the 61.5 million originally estimated.
Beethovenhalle in Bonn: Would it be an option to continue with other architects?
The SGB warns against this in the submission. A comprehensive survey of the previous planning would be necessary, copyrights and warranty issues would have to be clarified. An EU-wide re-tendering process would entail delays of up to two years and high cost risks. This was the main reason why the council decided last week to continue with both NSA and TGA planner Kofler.
What is behind the architects' radical move?
It is unlikely that NSA will terminate the contract with the city - this could result in years of litigation and claims for damages by the municipality. The architects would then find it even more difficult to get the fee for work they consider to have already been done: This alone is said to involve a single-digit million sum - an order of magnitude that can put even a large architectural firm in economic distress.
For NSA, the work stoppage in Bonn is probably more about putting pressure on the city. At the latest since the last council decision, the architects know that they have the upper hand. The parliamentary groups also agreed to the proposal to grant "acceleration bonuses" to the planners. According to the press office, NSA "directly approached the Lord Mayor" and "asked for her support in the talks with the municipal building management". Even after the sacking of SGB head Lutz Leide in May, negotiations are apparently not going fast enough for the architects with their clients in building management. The NSA management left a GA enquiry unanswered.