Architect's copycat claim pure fantasy, says judge
Court backs Koolhaas against former employee's claim that art gallery was copied from his design for town hall
Saturday November 3, 2001
One of the world's leading architects was cleared yesterday at the high court of using a student project as the blueprint for one of his most celebrated buildings.
Rem Koolhaas, a Dutchman who is a former winner of the profession's prestigious Pritzker prize, had been accused by Gareth Pearce, a student and former employee, of "surreptitiously and dishonestly" using his plans and infringing his copyright.
Mr Pearce had claimed that Mr Koolhaas had incorporated some of his plans in the design of the Kunsthal art gallery in Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
Yesterday the judge, Mr Justice Jacob, ruled that the claim was pure fantasy.
"It has no foundation whatsoever," he told the high court. "It is one of pure fantasy - preposterous fantasy at that. The Kunsthal owes nothing to the claimant."
Mr Pearce is a qualified architect with a degree from Birmingham University and a diploma in architecture from the Architectural Association in London.
His final year project at the association in 1986 was a design for a town hall in the London docklands which he displayed the following year when he worked for Mr Koolhaas as a modelmaker at the London branch of Mr Koolhaas's practice, the Office for Metropolitan Architecture.
Mr Pearce claimed that he was asked to bring the plans for his town hall into the offices by one of the partners, who asked him to leave them over the weekend so that Mr Koolhaas could have a look at them.
When he returned on Monday, he told the court, the drawings had been rolled up and Mr Pearce suspected they had been copied over the weekend.
Mr Justice Jacob dismissed this claim. "[It] does not have the ring of truth," he said.
The judge said Mr Pearce had lost his job at the OMA after his work was found to be inefficient and his behaviour "arrogant and unreasonable".
"Mr Pearce is evidently an emotional man. He gave his evidence with vehemence, indeed sometimes anger. I have to say that much of it was not believable," the judge said.
"I do not think Mr Koolhaas knew anything about Mr Pearce's student project, and it is wholly improbable that he could have asked to see it. Much more likely is that Mr Pearce left it, hoping that it would be noticed."
Mr Pearce had claimed that he noticed the similarities of the designs when he visited Rotterdam during the building of the Kunsthal in 1992.
Mr Justice Jacob said: "Well, I have been round the Kunsthal, I have a model of it and I have a model of the docklands town hall made from Mr Pearce's drawings. The buildings are simply nothing like each other."
Mr Pearce had sued Mr Koolhaas, the civil engineers Ove Arup, the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, and the city of Rotterdam. He had been awarded legal aid for the case, estimated to have cost in excess of Â£250,000.
A spokesman for Mr Koolhaas said the architect was relieved to have won, but he regretted the case had gone as far as it did. "The Kunsthal design is a completely original work and was not copied from any other drawings," the spokesman said.
"[Mr Koolhaas] is upset that he has been forced into the English courts in respect of an allegation of infringement of copyright, with little chance of recovering legal costs from Mr Pearce."