Dramatically curved glass building generates hazardous light reflection

An architectural rendering of 20 Fenchurch street at dusk, with the computer-generated glare of the setting sun. Image appears on the Rafael Viñoly Architects Website.

An architectural rendering of 20 Fenchurch street at dusk, with the computer-generated glare of the setting sun. Image appears on the Rafael Viñoly Architects Website.

A pioneering use of curved glass in the building at 20 Fenchurch Street in London has broken new ground in engineering. The strikingly bold design, which the popular press has dubbed “the Walkie-Talkie” building, has also raised unanticipated problems for Rafael Viñoly Architects. The voluptuous curve of the building facade focuses the lights rays at certain times of the day, creating a high-temperature beam of light that has damaged a parked car. The London Evening Standard recently reported on the hotspot created on Eastcheap Street by the building, which has already been blamed for melting parts of a parked Jaguar, including the wing mirror and Jaguar emblem. Reuters reported that some business owners near the building have experienced sun damage and carpet burns in front of their stores, and a TV crew even fried an egg in the hot spot, which has registered 161 degrees Farenheit.

The Jaguar owner was compensated for the incident, and three parking lots were closed across from the building to prevent more damage. A two-story scaffolding was recently erected to absorb the intense rays. “I knew this was going to happen. But there was a lack of tools or software that could be used to analyze the problem accurately,” said architect Rafael Viñoly in an interview with The Guardian. “When it was spotted on a second design iteration, we judged the temperature was going to be about 36 degrees [96.8 F],” he said. “But it’s turned out to be more like 72 degrees [161.6 F]. They are calling it the ‘death ray,’ because if you go there you might die. It is phenomenal, this thing.”Nicknamed the “Walkie Talkie” because of its shape, the skyscraper, located on Fenchurch Street in central London, is slated for completion in 2014. Viñoly’s design includes wider floor plans at the top of the 600-feet-high building rather than at the bottom, as is typical with many skyscrapers. It will also include a three-level Skygarden, the city’s first public skyscraper observation deck, from which visitors will be able to enjoy panoramic views of London.

—Grace Duggan

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