Escalating façade costs

27th of November 2012
Escalating façade costs

German correspondent Thomas Schulte-Marxloh reports from Hamburg on the spiralling costs of a façade cleaning contract.

For about two years Hamburg has been waiting for the completion of its Elbphilharmonic, the city’s new prestige project in the harbour area. Unfortunately, the unfinished gem of the city has not become a positive example of German engineering and administration. Recently it became public that the cleaning of the glass façade – 16,000 square metres – had not been planned adequately which will increase the costs for the building.

Originally, before signing the respective contracts, the city of Hamburg had expected costs of 77 million euros and the completion of the building in 2010. Today Hamburg has to face estimated costs of up to 476 million euros. Many factors were responsible for the extreme increase of the actual costs. Meanwhile both the client and the construction company took each other to court, so work has been halted.

This summer it emerged that the cleaning concept for the facade, with about 2,200 windows, had not been developed until early 2011. But it is still questionable whether this concept will work at all.

Originally it was planned to install a regular cleaning platform for façade cleaning. It seems the civil servant who was in charge at that time intended to save the estimated costs of four million euros and cancelled this system in 2006.

Instead he intended to employ professional climbers and hoisting platforms. Unfortunately, it was not so easy to turn this plan into reality as the BSU (local authority for workplace safety) demanded an additional guardrail. Estimated costs for the present solution: about 10 million euros. Aside from the increased costs, BSU did not even approve this plan until February this year.

According to a report in the local paper Hamburger Abendblatt, the officials in charge believed that the BSU would give its approval once precedents had been created, or the mayor of Hamburg at that time would obtain it "somehow". But it became more difficult than expected to obtain and it took more than four years to settle this issue.

Meanwhile the construction company completed the glass façade which might bring additional costs today - in order to mount the required rail, parts of the façade may have to be removed, says the construction company. The ReGe (Realisierungs-Gesellschaft ~ municipal project authority) demands an alternative, less expensive solution.

Anyway, the ReGe asks for a guardrail which - for aesthetic reasons - can be turned down. Presently it is planned to clean three sides of the façade up to a height of 54 metres (highest point of the building 110 metres) with the help of hoisting platforms, all other parts are to be cleaned by industrial climbers. A test period of two years is scheduled in order to find the best cleaning method.


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