Superman is capable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound, but now a building in London has demonstrated that it can melt cars! The 38-story skyscraper at 20 Fenchurch Street in London’s financial district features highly reflective glass panels. Dubbed the “Walkie Talkie” building, the concave shape on the south elevation is currently concentrating the sun’s rays on a section of Eastcheap Street. A Jaguar parked for about an hour on Eastcheap had its mirror and plastic body panels partially melted.
The architect, Rafael Viñoly, says that the original design of the building featured horizontal sun louvers on the south elevation, but these were apparently removed due to budget concerns. The developer of the project, Land Securities and Canary Wharf Group, has blamed the current elevation of the sun for the problem. Yes, that’s right – it’s the sun’s fault! Viñoly in turn has suggested that global warming may be the real culprit: “When I first came to London years ago, it wasn’t like this. Now you have all these sunny days.”
Moreover, Viñoly claims that no software existed during the design process to analyze the problem accurately. “When it was spotted on a second design iteration, we judged the temperature was going to be about 36 degrees,” he said. “But it’s turned out to be more like 72 degrees. They are calling it the ‘death ray’, because if you go there you might die. It is phenomenal, this thing.”
Keep in mind, these temperatures are in Celsius. 72 degrees Celsius is 162 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot enough to fry an egg, which is exactly what a café on Eastcheap managed to do using the “death ray”. Right now there does not appear to be a solution to the problem short of cloudy weather. The developer has erected a 2-story scaffolding structure covered in netting in the street, and three parking spaces have been removed.
Similar issues occurred on the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. The stainless steel cladding and the distinctive curvilinear shape of the building reflected too much sunlight onto nearly structures. Eventually the cladding was scuffed up to make it less reflective. I testified in mediation on this project and my client was the cladding subcontractor, but their claim was related to scheduling and cost issues.