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20 Fenchurch Makes the 5 Worst List for 2013

December 31, 2013
Temporary mesh screens applied to the south face of 20 Fenchurch to reduce glare reflections.

Temporary mesh screens applied to the south face of 20 Fenchurch to filter reflections.

The Telegraph has listed Rafael Viñoly’s 20 Fenchurch as one of Britain’s 5 worst architecture projects of 2013. This is the building whose solar convergence formed by its doubly-curved facade melted the plastic off a nearby Jaguar last September. With subsequent demonstrations of eggs frying and photos of heat fractured tiles in neighboring buildings, you can well imagine the British press’ delight in reporting on their new “fryscraper.”

But seriously, one has to wonder about the thinking behind such an egregious design error, particularly in “light” of Viñoly’s previous deathray design at the Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas. With the Vdara’s well-earned renown as a case study of the perils of concave south-facing glass facades, how could the same architects have made the identical mistake? Were they fooled into thinking that London’s cloudy weather could mitigate the problems that resulted in Vegas? If so, they were wrong. Temperatures inside a black bag left on the street below 20 Fenchurch were recorded as high as 198 degrees Fahrenheit.

And it doesn’t require a complex double concave face to create a solar convergence problem. We’re seeing reports that reflections from the slanted flat face of Richard Rogers’s new Cheesegrater Tower in London are also blasting neighbors.  Even the more traditional, oval shaped Museum Tower in Dallas glares down on Renzo Piano’s beautifully day-lit Nasher Sculpture Center with devastating results.

It leads me to wonder: what would Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall look like if the solar reflections had been considered earlier, before it was necessary to sandblast the polished titanium surfaces to reduce their reflectance? Would the building be a different shape? Different color? Different texture?

Let’s make 2014 the year of thoughtful solar design. Now that we’ve proven we can build any shape we darn well please, let’s start thinking again about how buildings relate to their environment and context. Let’s make it a year in which light pollution is considered when it ought to be – during the design process! Rather than fixing our masterpieces with expensive retrofits of window films, mesh screens or shades, let’s eliminate buildings that actively harm their surroundings and make 2014’s worst architecture list a discussion about taste.

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