London Skyscraper Blamed for Melting Car

BRITAIN-ARHCITECTURE-WEATHERAnticipation is building as construction of London’s “Walkie Talkie” skyscraper continues, but there’s one problem already towering over its developers: the structure may be melting cars. Seriously.

The commercial skyscraper at 20 Fenchurch Street in the city’s financial district, which earned its nickname for its distinct shape, has been blamed for reflecting enough sunlight to warp the metal on parked cars. A man said he had parked his Jaguar on a nearby street and after he returned two hours later, noticed damage to the vehicle’s mirror, panels and Jaguar badge. He told the BBC that he found a note from the construction company on the windshield that said, “Your car’s buckled, could you give us a call?” Ouch.

“It’s absolutely ruined,” Martin Lindsay told the BBC, referring to his Jaguar XJ. Lindsay had the misfortune of parking his luxury car across the street from the office building for an hour; the Jaguar now has melted panels, mirrors and other parts. “You can’t believe something like this would happen. They’ve got to do something about it.”

London isn’t famous for hot weather, but that may change soon, and not because of global warming: The design of a new skyscraper in the city is melting cars and setting buildings on fire.

Local shopkeepers have complained about carpets catching fire and smoldering front doors. A restaurant owner told London news site City A.M. that slate tiles on his doorstep had shattered in the heat.

In the meantime, the building developers, Land Securities and Canary Wharf, aren’t taking this lightly. They apologized to the Jaguar owner and paid for repairs, and are now investigating. “As a precautionary measure, the City of London has agreed to suspend three parking bays in the area which may be affected while we investigate the situation further,” the companies said in a joint statement. They also hit us with some science: “The phenomenon is caused by the current elevation of the sun in the sky. It currently lasts for approximately 2 hours per day, with initial modelling suggesting that it will be present for approximately 2-3 weeks.”

James Keaveney of the University of Durham’s Atomic and Molecular Physics department told City A.M. that the inward curve of the wall is an inherent flaw in the building’s design. “It’s a concave shape, so it’s going to have a focusing effect on the light that is reflected from it.”

That same concave shape has been used in the design of solar power plants. A solar dish in New Mexico contains 82 mirrors that focus sunlight onto an engine that contains hydrogen. As the gas expands and contracts from heating and cooling, that motion drives pistons that power a generator that creates electricity.

“There’s [also] a power station in Spain that works on this principle,” Keaveney said. “They have an array of mirrors that focuses light into a central pillar — if it’s 60 degrees Celsius [140 degrees Fahrenheit], you could get solar panels and get some energy out of it.”

This isn’t the first time Viñoly’s architecture has raised eyebrows as well as temperatures: His Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas has been criticized for directing sunbeams onto the swimming pool deck that are hot enough to melt plastic and singe people’s hair. The hotspot became known as the “Vdara death ray.”

The Vdara mitigated the “death ray” with larger sun umbrellas, but fixing the problem in London might take a lot more work. “There are examples in the past where an architect has had to rebuild the façade,” Philip Oldfield, an expert in tall buildings at the University of Nottingham’s Department of Architecture, told City A.M. “If this is serious, then I dread to think how expensive it will be.”


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