There have been several instances where architects have unintentionally ventured into grey areas when designing buildings. I guess it’s the passion to venture into unexplored territory, the desire to produce landmarks or maybe, sheer arrogance when critical aspects are overlooked in designing spaces.
The legendary American architect Frank Lloyd Wright is quoted as saying, “The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his client to plant vines.”
Glaring examples in the past include the Aon Centre in Chicago which was clad in Italian Carrara marble that had the marble pieces falling all over the place, the 60 storey John Hancock tower designed by renowned architect I.M.Pie, which had problems with its windows crashing down below, as well as the problem of motion sickness for the occupants of the upper floors on account of the structure’s sway.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology had filed a negligence suit against Frank Gehry for design flaws in the “The Ray and Maria State Centre”, citing structural problems and drainage issues.
The latest to misadventure to join this infamous bandwagon is the commercial skyscraper 20 Fenchurch Street, popularly known is the “Walkie Talkie” or “The Pint” on account of its distinctive shape. Scheduled to be completed in 2014, the proposed 160 meter, 37 storeys building estimated to cost over 200 million pounds is making headlines for the wrong reasons.
The curved shape of the building is focussing the sun’s energy in a manner that it has caused parts of cars, tiles and carpets on the street to be damaged. Land Securities and Canary Wharf, the building’s developers, have already taken some steps towards damage control and may be looking at long term solutions, this is not the first time a building designed by the esteemed architect Rafael Viñoly has caused such problems. The Vdara Hotel and Spa designed by his practice in Las Vegas, collected the solar rays of his structures and beamed them into the swimming pool area making the sunbathing guests regularly singed.
While it’s easy to lay blame on the Architect, I feel that the root of the problem lies elsewhere – namely in understanding who or what an Architect is or does or is supposed to do and after so many before me have attempted this complex exercise, I will boldly like to do so once again. A building is the result of a collaborative venture between various stakeholders such as the Society, the developer, the Architects, the technical consultants as well as contractors. The Architect undoubtedly injects the essence into the built and open spaces, provides vision and a glimpse into the future, (the shape of things to come), but it is only through a collaborative effort that a building finally takes shape. It is common (but a rather incorrect) practice to assign credit/ blame to the Architect who sometimes acquires celebrity or cult status on this account.
This is not to say that the blame lies on everyone or that I am trying to dilute the responsibility of the Architect. I simply wish to point out that in most successful buildings, it is the collaborative effort of the entire team working synergistically that creates the architectural marvel.
A good method to avoid faults in buildings would be :
- To involve and engage specialist agencies for every aspect of the work (and not simply leave it all on the Architect). This is especially important in “iconic designs” for public buildings.
- The Architect should be more receptive to advice from the various specialist teams and more significantly the Contractor.
- To pass on knowledge of such faults to as much of the young generation as possible so that others may learn and take preventive measures.
Making mistakes are a part of the growth curve of any profession and Architecture is not without it’s fair share of them.
On a lighter note, I am uploading some common images. (Copyright credit to their owners.)