Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Towering Inferno

The twitterverse today is full of the news about 20 Fenchurch Street, a skyscraper more commonly known as the Walkie-Talkie, that has fried a car (a Jag, no less) and the shopfronts opposite it, due to its curvature reflecting  and focussing the August sun's rays on the ground below.

It's that shape, apparently, because upper floors rent for more than lower floors, so it makes sense to have them bigger. The slight stoop to its form does not represent the building towering over the non-city buildings and attempting to intimidate all non-bankers therein; it is in fact said to signal the building bowing to the River Thames. The real deal joins a group of oddly-shaped buildings which are making London's graceful and ancient streets look like a Photoshopped joke city. Here's some examples, including the gherkin, the helter skelter and the cheese grater.

According to Business Insider, the car owner was compensated and the developers asked the city to suspend the parking spaces temporarily.

The BBC's picture of the melted (or at least partly softened) car

Or, as the owners put it, the sun melted the car. The skyscraper is not implicated. According to a write up in IB Times,
An investigation has been launched by co-developers Canary Wharf and Land Securities into what they have branded a "phenomenon." They blamed the sun for the freakish conditions, not the new £200m building or its design. 'The phenomenon is caused by the current elevation of the sun in the sky," a spokesman said.
IB Times also have pictures showing that the beam is capable of frying an egg in a pan.

More interestingly, though, the Walkie Talkie isn't the first Death Ray building erected by this architect. Rafael Viñoly also designed the Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas. This building is a lens which made headlines two years ago when it singed bathers at its swimming pool.
Local media, as well as some hotel staff and guests, have come to refer to the reflection as the "death ray," but MGM Resorts officials prefer to call it a "solar convergence phenomenon." "The refraction moves across the pool deck over a period 90 minutes," company spokesman Gordon Absher told Reuters. 
"It's never in the same place from day to day or week to week because the sun its changing its elevation in the sky." MGM Resorts, which owns the property, has sought to correct the problem by installing a high-tech solar film over each of the 3,000 glass panes covering the south facade of the Vdara to scatter the rays.

Ah, it's another solar phenomenon. It's not a building with a death ray either.

William Guidry here attempts to explain the optics of the Vdara.

Edited picture: 6:22 2013/09/04

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