Your extension is completed, and you enjoy it very much. Until, that is, you find in the post one day, a writ from the designer of the original house. She claims that your extension is a mutilation of her original design, and asks the court for damages to restore her reputation. You are, I would guess, flabbergasted. It's your house, after all. Who is she to say you can't alter it as you wish?
Far fetched? Just plain weird? In Britain, it would be impossible, but that isn't the case everywhere.
For the last two years, Santiago Calatrava has been fighting just such a case against the authorities in Bilbao. The case relates to Calatrava's Zubizuri ("white bridge" in Basque), perhaps better known as his Campo Volantin Footbridge. And the news, just in, is that he has won. He's the designer, and no, it can't be altered without his consent.
Opened in 1997, the arch footbridge (pictured left), spanning 75m across the Nervion River, is one of Calatrava's most iconic works. It has had its problems - the footway is inset with glass bricks which can be slippery with wet, and the local council has reportedly spent 250,000 euros replacing them when they break, as well as dealing with claims from injured bridge users.
In 2006, a new and substantially less attractive footbridge link was added at one end of the Zubizuri, in order to provide a better connection to the new Isozaki towers. The new link bridge can be seen here and here (and below). While it's undoubtedly totally out of keeping with Calatrava's design, it does serve the rather useful purpose of providing a direct high-level connection where there was previously none.
In 2007, Calatrava sued the authorities for breaching his moral rights to the integrity of his artistic work, arguing that this alteration represented derogatory treatment of "his" bridge. He complained both about the attachment of the new bridge, and about the removal of a short section of balustrade. He sought either for the new link bridge to be removed (and to receive 250,000 euros in moral damages), or if it were to remain in place, to receive 3 million euros in damages, a sum that must have several other bridge designers wondering how they can tap this unlikely new source of income.
Bilbao argued that there was a common public interest in extending and modifying the bridge, and that this superseded Calatrava's rights.
In November 2007, the courts decided that although the designer's moral rights had indeed been breached, no damages were due. Calatrava appealed.
Now, Calatrava's appeal has been upheld, and while Bilbao will be allowed to keep their footbridge extension (pictured left, courtesy of Daquella Manera on flickr, as is the image below), they have to pay Calatrava damages. That link suggests 300,000 euros are to be paid, but in fact it's only 30,000 (Spanish readers can find the full court decision online). What's clear is that while the Spanish courts have very firmly upheld Calatrava's right not to have his bridges tampered with, they've also very firmly rejected his estimation of the extent of damage caused. Nonetheless, building owners throughout Spain will probably be reeling from the judgement, which opens the way for any architect to seek damages any time their work is altered.
So, what are these "moral rights"? They relate to the ability of an artist to control the fate of their works. Essentially, they prevent owners of a work of art from altering it, which I guess is a useful protection to have.
In the USA, moral rights are primarily available for visual art - certainly not for buildings.
In the UK, moral rights are enshrined in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988, which includes buildings as "artistic works". Artistic works are protected against addition, deletion, alteration or adaptation, where this distorts or mutilates the work, or harms the creator's reputation in any way. Luckily for building owners in the UK, however, the Act specifically excludes buildings from protection against derogatory treatment (clause 80(5), for those who care), so it appears that the Calatrava case couldn't happen here.
In reality it's not quite that simple. A detailed account of the Calatrava case at WIPO magazine suggests that the Spanish intellectual property law doesn't clearly offer any protection to works of architecture, implying that the courts are setting an important precedent by expanding its interpretation. All national legislation in this area has its source in the Berne Convention, which does explicitly include works of architecture, and explicitly provides protection against distortion, mutilation or other derogatory treatment.
So it's far from unreasonable to conclude that this may not be the last time a bridge designer sues to protect the artistic integrity of their work. Bridge owners everywhere, beware! And homeowners, especially in Spain, think twice before having that extension built ...