When Buildings Attack

Buildings protect people and their things from the violence of nature—except when they don’t. Earlier this month, glare off a London building designed by Rafael Viñoly melted a poor bloke’s Jaguar parked near the 37-story tower. Flat windows arranged on a curve can reflect and intensify sunlight. It’s a common problem for architects, but it’s not all a building can do to its neighbors and inhabitants.

Rafael Viñoly Architects, Las Vegas, 2009
The London building wasn’t Viñoly’s first to produce a death ray—just the only one to target a luxury auto. The wall of the 57-story Vdara hotel in Vegas likewise serves as a parabolic reflector, melting plastic cups and even singeing hair with its poolside glare.

Bridgewater Place
Aedas, Leeds, England, 2007
Yorkshire’s tallest building is better known for creating hurricane-speed gusts that have injured dozens—and even killed one. City authorities are still trying to determine the best way to interrupt the freakish wind tunnel created by the 32-story curving tower.

Walt Disney Concert Hall
Frank Gehry, Los Angeles, 2003
The year after Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall opened, nearby residents began complaining about the intense glare reflecting off the building’s stainless steel in the summer. The problematic area was sanded until it merely shone with the strength of brushed steel.

Taipei 101
C.Y. Lee & Partners, Taipei, 2004
Taiwan briefly led in the global skyscraper wars, with the world’s tallest building from 2004 to 2010. In the race to build behemoth structures, Taipei 101 bears the distinction of drawing nature’s warning that mankind wasn’t meant to build so high: During construction, earthquakes of magnitude 2 or less doubled.

The Astrodome
Hermon Lloyd & W.B. Morgan, and Wilson, Morris, Crain and Anderson, Houston, 1965
It was supposed to be the first indoor stadium with enough natural light to grow grass, but the Lucite panels in the dome’s ceiling blinded players going for pop flies. The panels were painted over, which killed the grass. The Astros couldn’t keep playing on dirt painted green, so management invested in a solution: AstroTurf.

Museum Tower
Johnson Fain/GDA Architects, Dallas, 2013
It sucks to lose your Jag to a fryscraper, but the whole world loses when a tower ruins a James Turrell installation. The artist declared his skyspace for the Nasher Sculpture Center destroyed after the 42-story Museum Tower went up in January, blocking the art’s sky view. Making matters worse, glare from the building is destroying vegetation at the Nasher, driving its landscape architect, Peter Walker, to call it a “public desecration.”

John Hancock Tower
Henry Cobb/Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, then I.M. Pei & Partners Boston, 1976
Before the skyscraper’s 1976 opening, large glass windows fell out at an alarming rate, and all of its 10,344 panes had to be replaced. The 60-story skyscraper also swayed noticeably, a quirk unrelated to the falling windows. Eventually the tower was weighted down and reinforced to stop the swaying.

Federal Building
Thom Mayne/Morphosis, San Francisco, 2007
Architect Thom Mayne tried to account for glare, adding perforated panels over the building’s floor-to-ceiling windows. He didn’t account for the low tolerance of federal employees. Workers seated along the south-facing wall donned sunglasses and erected beach umbrellas. Blinds were eventually installed.

Case Western Reserve University Peter B. Lewis Building
Frank Gehry, Cleveland, 2003
Record snows in Cleveland in 2003, the year the Gehry-designed Peter B. Lewis Building opened, sent sheets of ice tumbling down the building’s sloping steel roof. With stalactite-size icicles hanging from the roof’s edges, school officials erected barriers to keep students from being avalanched on.

When Buildings Attack