Managing Interior Projects When Bad Design Happens to Good Buildings

Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, things go wrong. When it comes to a design project in a multifamily building, be it a lobby renovation, a roof deck build-out, or a repainting the common hallways, the ‘wrong’ part can involve anything and everything from bad taste, to a dysfunctional design committee, to a budget-busting under-estimation of costs. Disasters can happen in an individual unit, or on a building-wide basis. Often, they can be corrected without too much pain or suffering. Other times, that’s not so easy.

Get Your Permits

Jorge Arias, a New York-based architect, suggests that, “A typical mistake that architects make in New York is when they ‘concede’ to designing projects done without permits, or for projects where there is much more construction work than what is reported.”

He recounts a case that occurred in Trump Tower in New York City. An owner got clearance for some cosmetic work on two apartments. They ended up combining the apartments and doing a lot of very much not-cosmetic plumbing work without permits. The architect involved ‘let it slide.’ 

A few years later, the apartment was offered for sale, and during the due diligence process the buyer and his legal representatives found that according to the Department of Finance, the apartment was reported as one unit. But according to the Department of Buildings, it was two separate apartments. “That exposed the illegal work, and also created a big liability,” says Arias. “Any water leaks, gas leaks, or fire damage that might affect neighbors would provide those who suffered damage the right to sue for millions of dollars.

“The situation of course needs to be fixed to allow for the proper sale of the property,” he continues. “The corrective work involved costs much more money and time than the ‘savings’ for not doing the right thing at the time of construction. This is a common mistake shared by the owner and the architect, but it is the architect who should have rejected this possibility – and so should all other architects –  in order to clarify the rules and to elevate the standards of the profession as a whole.”


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