Economy

Built to last? 10 architectural fails

Luke Graham, special to CNBC.com

Walkie Talkie Tower, London

Richard Newstead | Moment | Getty Images

The skyscraper at 20 Fenchurch Street, dubbed the "Walkie-Talkie tower", last month won the "Carbuncle Cup" -- an award given by Building Design magazine to the worst building in the U.K.

The tongue-in-cheek award seems mean, but the tower has caused a number of problems.

In July, the U.K.'s Daily Telegraph reported that the building was creating a wind tunnel that blew down shop signs and swept pedestrians off their feet. In 2013, the building's south-facing wall reflected sunlight onto the streets below, melting a car's bodywork. Non-reflective film had to be attached to the tower's windows as a prevention.

But the Walkie Talkie is not the only architectural mistakes that have been made. Here are 10 more unintended errors.

By Luke Graham and Ellie Hall

Citigroup Center, New York

One of the Citigroup Center's stilts
Chris Hondros | Getty Images

Built in 1977, the 59-storey Citigroup Center (now called 601 Lexington) stands on just four stilts, each 114-foot tall. The structural engineer, William LeMesurier, who died in 2007, used cutting edge design to make sure the skyscraper was light and stable.

However, in 1978, according to the Daily Mail, he was alerted to an oversight by a university student: the building was vulnerable to diagonal winds and could topple if a storm hit Manhattan. The bolted joints were reinforced at a cost of $8 million over three months, during which a hurricane formed in the Atlantic but fortunately missed the city.


Al Wakrah Stadium, Qatar

An aerial view of the Al Wakrah Stadium, designed by Zaha Hadid
Zaha Hadid Architects

The designs for this stadium, being constructed for the 2022 Qatari World Cup, have been unfortunately likened to a woman's private parts, The Independent reported in 2013.

Designed by architect Zaha Hadid, the stadium is meant to evoke the boats which Qataris used for pearl diving.

"Al Wakrah has served as an important fishing and pearl-harvesting port throughout Qatar's history," Davide Giordano, from Zaha Hadid Architects, told CNBC via email. "Al Wakrah's tradition is reflected in the stadium design, which echoes the traditional dhows upturned on the beach when the local fishermen return to land – hence the stadium's beams referencing the wooden overlapping planks of the clinker-built boats.

"I cannot comment on what some commentators suggested, perhaps some people can only see what their mind wants them to see."


Vdara Hotel and Spa, Las Vegas

The Vdara hotel
George Rose | Getty Images

In 2009, the concave, mirrored surface of this Las Vegas hotel was found to reflect a ray of heat onto the pool deck which was hot enough to melt plastic bags and singe hair, according to report in The Guardian.

The hotel, briefly nicknamed the "Death Ray Hotel", was designed by Rafael Viñoly, the same architect who built the Walkie Talkie tower. Despite attaching film to the south facing panels of the glass, the hotel has thicker, larger umbrellas to protect guests from the "death spot," believed to cause temperatures to soar by 15 degrees.

Rafael Viñoly Architects declined to comment when contacted by CNBC.

John Hancock Tower, Boston

The John Hancock Tower in Boston
Peter Johansky | Photolibrary | Getty Images

The construction of the tower in the early 1970s was beset with problems. A windstorm in 1973 caused entire 4' by 11' windows, weighing 500 pounds each, to crash onto the streets below. This was caused by an air space between the layers of glass, and all 10,344 windows had to be replaced at a cost of over $7 million. During this time, the building was covered in plywood, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.

Even after the building was completed in 1976, workers on the upper floors complained of motion sickness caused by the building's swaying motion. This needed to be fixed by installing a "tuned mass damper".

Standard Oil/Amoco Building/Aon Center, Chicago

The Standard Oil building in 1974
Chicago History Museum | Archive Photos | Getty Images

This tower, designed by Edward Durrell Stone and erected between 1970 and 1973, was entirely coated in marble. In 1974 (when this picture was taken), one slab of marble from the tower fell off the building and landed on the Prudential tower next door.

Problems with the cladding system (designed by a second company, Perkins & Will) required all of the exterior marble to be replaced with granite at the huge cost of $180 million.

"This building was constructed as one of the first to use a thin sliced marble cladding (three-quarters of an inch) which proved to be the problem," Raymond Gomez, an architect who worked with Stone on the project, told CNBC via email. "After a decade or more of freeze/thaw cycle of Chicago winters, the thin marble was worn weak in successive expansion and contraction and began to bulge."

Perkins & Will declined to comment when contacted by CNBC.

The Millennium Bridge, London

The Millennium bridge in London was engineered by Arup
DEA | S. LOMBARDI VALLAUR | Getty Images

Designed to celebrate the turn of the millennium, the footbridge is suspended by steel cables over the River Thames. When the bridge opened in 2000, construction was already £2 million ($3,044,500 ) over the £16 million budget and the public complained that the bridge wobbled while they walked across it. After a £5 million attempt to fix the problem, the bridge re-opened in 2002.

"The cutting-edge design of the Millennium Bridge at the time highlighted the unique phenomenon of synchronous lateral excitation, which is excessive movement as a result of a large number of people crossing the bridge in step," Jill Baker, from Arup (one of the bridge's designers) and project manager for the modification works to the bridge, told CNBC via email.

"Arup solved (the problem) with the fitting of a passive damping solution, which can be likened to shock absorbers, under the deck of the bridge.

"This event has changed how we design bridges. Our research has meant that we can predict the onset of synchronous lateral excitation meaning that bridge design everywhere will be better."


CityCenter, Las Vegas

The Harmon Hotel before it was deconstructed
Ethan Miller | Getty Images

The Harmon Hotel tower at the entrance to the $8.5 billion CityCenter resort had to be taken down only five years after it was completed in 2009. The tower was meant to reach 47 stories, but it was discovered halfway through construction that the tower was not fit for purpose and could implode if an earthquake hit Las Vegas. It was left at 26 floors and stood empty until deconstruction began in 2014.

Reinforcement bars were misplaced within the concrete slabs making up the floors of the building, meaning each floor of the structure could potentially collapse. Tests by engineering firm Chukwuma Ekwueme found more than 7,000 defects.

Both MGM resorts, one of the owners of CityCenter, and Foster + Partners, the resort's architects, declined to comment when contacted by CNBC.


Coronado, California

The building arrangement at the Coronado Naval Base unintentionally resembles a swastika, as seen on Google Maps.
Google Maps

This naval bases in California resembles a military symbol, but not in a good way. Built in 1967, no one noticed the layout of some of the buildings resembled the shape of a Nazi swastika, until it was spotted in 2007 thanks to Google Maps, according to Time magazine. The Navy spent more than $600,000 trying to disguise the shape.

The Walt Disney Concert Hall, California

Oleg Korshakov | Moment | Getty Images

Designed by Frank Gehry, this building cost $274 million to build and is now home to the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra. It is coated in metal and, after it opened in 2003, light reflected off of its stainless steel exterior onto nearby buildings and increased the temperature by about 15 degrees during hotter seasons. The pavement was said to have heated up to around 60 degrees Celsius, according to The Guardian.

"There were minor problems of reflection that were easily and quickly resolved by dulling a very small area of the surface of the building with steel wool," Meaghan Lloyd, from Gehry Partners, told CNBC via email.

"It is important to note that the L.A. Philharmonic is proud of the building and counts it as a major asset and as one of the reasons for its continued success since moving in."

Tropicana Field Stadium, Florida

The Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Brian Blanco | Getty Images

This indoor stadium cost $130 million to build and opened in 1990. Unfortunately, the architects forgot that the aim of baseball is to hit a home run, involving hitting the ball very far or very high. The Tropicana Field stadium has four catwalks hanging from the ceiling, which balls frequently hit and either get stuck or roll off slowly for the fielders to catch.

Plus, there are lights on the catwalks above the pitch which, if hit, can rain hot shards of glass onto the players.

Hunt Construction Group, who were the general contractors of the stadium, declined to comment when contacted by CNBC.