Tuesday22 August 2017

Five badly behaved buildings

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As Rafael Viñoly’s Walkie Talkie hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons, BD looks back at five other buildings that have been up to no good…

1. The Vdara Hotel, Las Vegas, by Rafael Viñoly

The Walkie Talkie is not Vinoly’s first fire-starter. In 2010 guests at the new Vdara Hotel complained they had been badly burned by sunlight reflected from the building’s facade, which also melted disposable drinks glasses among other things. The local Las Vegas Review-Journal ran with the headline “Vdara ‘Death Ray’ scorches hair, melts plastic”.

The design team had actually spotted a potential problem and believed it had been solved with a film that was overlaid on the glass panels on the south side of the building.

“It felt like I had a chemical burn. I couldn’t imagine why my head was burning,” hotel guest Bill Pintas told the Daily Mail. “Within 30 seconds, the back of my legs were burning. My first though was, ‘Jesus, they destroyed the ozone layer!’ “

Vdara Condo Hotel at CityCenter Las Vegas

Vdara Condo Hotel at CityCenter Las Vegas


2. Bridgewater Place, Leeds, by Aedas

The tallest building in Leeds has also turned out to be one of the worst for the health of the city’s residents. The 112m high tower was built in 2007 and since then has caused one death and serious injuries thanks to the wind tunnel created around its base. A passing pedestrian was crushed to death after the wind gusts became strong enough to topple a lorry and another suffered a torn liver after being blown into the corner of a wall.

A council report revealed 25 incidents caused by winds at the site, and earlier this year the council approved £245,000 in funding for a solution although work has yet to start.



3. Hancock Place, Boston, by IM Pei & Partners

This 60-storey, 240m-tall skyscraper in Boston may look find and dandy, but it was known locally as the Plywood Palace for years thanks to one of a series of engineering flaws that had already seen the opening of the building delayed by five years and the total cost balloon by an estimated $100 million.

Creating 10,344 windows using reflective blue glass panels weighing 227kg each was a brave move. Sadly, it also proved disastrous after the panels began detaching from the building, with police cordoning off surrounding roads whenever winds reached 45mph. Researchers pointed the finger at thermal stresses caused by the heating and cooling of air in between each pane of the double glazed windows. 5000 panes were removed and many were temporarily replaced with plywood earning the building the nickname “Plywood Palace”. (If you’re interested in the architectural saga behind this building make sure you read this article which helped its author win a Pulitzer Prize).

Workmen replace blown out panes of glass with plywood in Boston’s John Hancock tower

Source: Bill Chaplis/AP/Press Association Images

Workmen replace blown out panes of glass with plywood in Boston’s John Hancock tower, tallest building in New England on June 7, 1973.


4. Museum Tower, Dallas, by Scott Johnson

This 42-storey residential building is, in many ways, unremarkable - another big tower with a big budget. Unfortunately, the light reflecting off the building is threatening the future of a number of priceless works of art in the very building it takes its name from and has put the tower at the centre of an ongoing dispute.

Museum Tower overlooks the Nash Sculpture Centre, which consists of a museum building designed by Renzo Piano and landscaped gardens by Peter Walker. “What the reflection does is very much like putting light through a magnifying glass, it essentially burns everything that it sees,” Walker told The Huffington Post. The light is creating shadows in the gallery interior, as well as affecting plant life in the sculpture gardens.

One piece of art, created by James Turrell specifically for the gallery, has already been declared destroyed as the tower disturbs the clear view of the sky that the piece relied on.

Museum Tower seen from the Nasher Sculpture Center

Source: Nasher Sculpture Center

Museum Tower seen from the Nasher Sculpture Center

Nasher Sculpture Center

Source: Nasher Sculpture Center

Shadows cast by the light reflected from Museum Tower



5. Taipei 101, Taiwan, by CY Lee

Famous for being the world’s tallest building until 2010 and a feat of engineering excellence with revolutionary earthquake and typhoon mitigation technologies, Taipei 101 was one of the first in the race to build up. Unfortunately, it was also one of the first buildings to be accused of actually causing a quake.

The 508m-tall building weighs a staggering 700,000 tonnes. In December 2005, a geologist pointed the finger at the tower for putting stress of the ground beneath and around it, claiming that it may have reopened a fault line.

Prior to the construction of Taipei 101, the Taipei basin experienced micro-earthquakes at a rate of around once a year - much like parts of the UK. During construction this increased to two micro-quakes per year. But in the period between completion and December 2005 there were two earthquakes below Taipei 101 big enough to feel according to Dr Cheng Horng Lin who was interviewed by The Guardian. However, his conclusions weren’t met with universal agreement and the jury is still out on whether the building bears any responsibility for Taipei’s seismic activity.


And a building that doesn’t deserve its bad rep: 8 Spruce Street, New York, by Frank Gehry

Whatever your feelings about Gehry’s architecture and skyscrapers, this is a building that definitely doesn’t deserve its bad reputation. In 2011, sustainable architecture blog Inhabitat launched one of the most successful architecture-related April Fools jokes yet, with an article that claimed that the New York Fire Commission had confirmed that reflections from the facade of the Gehry’s skyscraper were setting fire to buildings and objects around it. The article ran complete with photoshopped images of black smoke rising from buildings around the tower.

The story was picked up by a number of other news outlets, and is often repeated in discussions about bad buildings, but is definitely not true.


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