It sometimes happens that architects overlook or wrongly estimate some factors while designing, which results in a poor, non- functional structure, which can cause harm to their surroundings. The vision that an architect has for a building, may not always translate into reality. The architect’s responsibility is ensuring the building interacts positively with its site surroundings. If a building is big enough to be an icon for an area or a city, then it tends to define it negatively. One such building is the Walkie Talkie building in London.  

20 Fenchurch Street is the actual name of the commercial skyscraper located in London. It is called ‘The Walkie Talkie” because of the shape. This 38 storeyed building is designed by architect Rafael Viñoly. It is a top-heavy structure that curves out upward and outward. There is a large viewing deck on top of the ground floor and the first 34 floors. The bar and restaurants are on the 35th – 37th floors. The building was originally visualized to be nearly 200m, but the concerns about its visual impact on the existing structures in the vicinity resulted in scaling it down. Even after the height issue was fixed, there were a lot of other concerns concerning its surroundings, which led to consequent public inquiries. In 2015, the structure was awarded the Carbuncle Cup for ‘The Worst New Building in the UK’

The Walkie Talkie Tower by Rafael Viñoly Architects: 'Unsophisticated 'and 'Bloated' Skyscraper - Sheet1
The Walkie Talkie building, London ©Google images

The issues leading to controversy regarding the building: 

1. Solar glare: 

This issue gave the building alternate names such as “Walkie- Scorchie” and “Fryscraper”. While the building’s construction was going on, it was found that when the sun shines directly onto the building for up to two hours, the building’s façade acts as a concave mirror and directs light on the south streets. Temperature readings at street level at the particular spots ranged from 91 °C to 117 °C. During the summer of 2013, a reflection of a beam six times brighter than direct sunlight focussed on the streets below actually damaged parked vehicles. It caused the bodywork of some vehicles to melt. One of the owners had to be paid an amount of £946 by the developers for repairs of his car. A reporter from City A.M – Jim Waterson set a pan on the ground and managed to fry an egg!

Working towards temporary solutions: In September 2013, the City of London Corporation was planning on erecting temporary screening on the streets. In 2014, on the south side of the building, a permanent awning was installed. 

The Walkie Talkie Tower by Rafael Viñoly Architects: 'Unsophisticated 'and 'Bloated' Skyscraper - Sheet2
The solar glare issue ©google images

2. Sky Garden: 

The sky garden consists of the top three floors (36-38). It is designed to be a vast and free public viewing space. 1 and a half hour slots are available for free access, which must be booked 3 days in advance. These restrictions have been criticized widely. Also, the execution of the garden failed to meet the pre-construction vision and expectations. In July 2015, it was discovered that the landscape architect’s alterations were not added to the layout of the garden. 

The Walkie Talkie Tower by Rafael Viñoly Architects: 'Unsophisticated 'and 'Bloated' Skyscraper - Sheet3
The Sky Garden ©google images

3. Wind tunnel:  

The building was yet again criticized for another issue – unexpected wind draughts at the street -level. The wind assessment outline differed from the actual situation post-construction. The down draughts coming from the tower are powerful enough to knock people over on the streets. 

The Walkie Talkie Tower by Rafael Viñoly Architects: 'Unsophisticated 'and 'Bloated' Skyscraper - Sheet4
The wind draught problem ©google images

The skyscraper is very bulky and hangs and towers over the surrounding streets and the river. The architect claims to have known and identified some of the issues during the early design stages but said he lacked the proper tools and software to analyze the effects that the building would generate. When the issues were identified on a second design discussion, the temperature was calculated to be about 36 degrees. In reality, it turned out to be double of it. The building has also been called the ‘death ray’. The architect also pushes some of the blame on global warming, saying it wasn’t so hot when he came to London years ago. This is not the first time that the architect has faced this particular issue. His other project, a hotel called Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas, has been reported to have the same reflection and heat issues. The architect should veer away from the curvilinear/ concave shaped architecture. 

The Walkie Talkie Tower by Rafael Viñoly Architects: 'Unsophisticated 'and 'Bloated' Skyscraper - Sheet5
The solar glare melted cars on the street ©google images
The Walkie Talkie Tower by Rafael Viñoly Architects: 'Unsophisticated 'and 'Bloated' Skyscraper - Sheet6
A news reporter frying an egg on the street in the heat spot ©google images

Architecture is a profession in which there is certain creative freedom for experimentation. However, the exploratory idea should always be backed by appropriate analysis and research data. The project has to be a collaboration between the clients, architects, engineers, landscape consultants researchers, and data analysts. Many factors such as budget reduction, unexpected contextual changes, over or underestimating some site conditions all result in poor design execution. This causes harmful interaction of the building with its surroundings and unnecessary corrections to the façade of the structure or the adjacent streets/ buildings. 

Sanika Bondre

Sanika Bondre is an aspiring architect and artist. She is also good with words and hopes to combine her profession and hobby into a new passion. She is always reading about sustainable methods in the field of architecture. In her spare time, she loves reading, sketching and looking at photos of dogs.

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