Architects behind the Gherkin and City Hall fined £3.6m over 'glaring errors' in £195m hotel design

Tristan Kirk
Lord Foster's design for the 13-storey Riva Hotel

World-famous architecture firm Foster + Partners has been ordered to pay £3.6 million for negligence over its design of an “iconic” five-star hotel that was never built.

Entrepreneur John Dhanoa hired the company, founded by Lord Foster, in 2007 to design a hotel near Heathrow, asking for a £100 million project that could be built in time for the end of the 2012 Olympics.

However Fosters blew the budget with its vision of a building spread over 13 storeys, including several underground, with pavilions enclosed in a giant glass biosphere.

It came up with a costing of £195 million - but, the High Court heard, it told Mr Dhanoa it would be possible to almost halve that estimate to be within his own budget - even though it was “blindingly obvious” that this was impossible.

Fosters, whose structures include The Gherkin, City Hall and Millennium Bridge, denied a string of failings over the development, arguing it had been unaware of Mr Dhanoa’s strict budget.

ounder and Executive Chairman of Foster and Partners Lord Foster (Getty Images for Wired)

But in a scathing judgment, Mr Justice Fraser said: “Fosters embarked upon designing the project with no thought or consideration for the budget at all.

“Everyone knew the design exceeded the budget - a young child could have spotted that £195 million was in excess of £100 million. Fosters knew the budget and had done since July 2007.”

The judge criticised architects Hugh Stewart and Grant Brooker, who struck the deal with Mr Dhanoa at his home in Hayes.

Mr Justice Fraser said the pair had judged Mr Dhanoa as “beneath them as a client” and accused them of being “extraordinarily enthusiastic ... to twist the facts” at the trial.

The court heard Mr Dhanoa spotted the hotel site in Bath Road while flying into Heathrow.

He bought the land for £14.5 million and agreed he would pay up to £100 million for a 500-bed venue that would open in September 2012.

When Fosters produced the £195 million design in 2008, Mr Dhanoa was told to apply for planning permission and assured the scheme would be “value engineered” downwards to the budget limit later.

The judge said experts had given evidence that “if such advice was given, it was negligent”.

Planning consent lapsed without construction, as Mr Dhanoa realised the design was unbuildable in his budget.

“Both Mr Stewart and Mr Brooker in their evidence seemed to express surprise, if not astonishment, that any client would use Fosters if they needed a project designed to a budget,” said the judge.

Fosters accused Mr Dhanoa of “hubris” but the judge called him an “astute businessman” and said Fosters mounted a “business-character assassination”.

The court awarded his firm Riva Properties £3.6 million for money spent on the project.

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