Tirana, Albania

Pyramid of Tirana

An Albanian monument to the Communism that nearly crushed the country is now a crumbling wreck
22 Nov 2014
Gerlach, Nevada

Fly Geyser

A collision of human error and natural geothermal pressure created this rainbow-colored geologic wonder
22 Nov 2014
Aberdeen, Hong Kong

Jumbo Kingdom

A colossal floating restaurant built to look like a ancient Chinese imperial palace
22 Nov 2014
Santiago, Chile

Termas Geometricas

This Japanese-inspired labyrinth of hot springs is hidden in a Chilean forest
22 Nov 2014
Belize City, Belize

Great Blue Hole

A massive underwater sinkhole made famous by Jacques Cousteau
22 Nov 2014
F-3 P-2, India

The Skeleton Lake of Roopkund, India

A lake with hundreds of ancient skeletons surrounding it. The surprise is what killed them…
22 Nov 2014

Articles

When Buildings Attack: Melted Cars, Ruined Art, and Other Troubles With Solar Convergence

by oriana leckert / 23 Nov 2014

article-image20 Fenchurch Street, aka "The Fryscraper" (photo by Luc Mercelis / Flickr)

Last September, Londoners experienced a pretty unusual architectural phenomenon: One of the city's newest luxury towers, the half-finished 525-foot-tall skyscraper at 20 Fenchurch St., began inexplicably shooting a "parabolic death ray" hot enough to melt cars. The massive building's glass façade with its unusually wide top was concentrating sunlight to the point that it created a reflected hotspot of up to 230ºF — much higher than the boiling point of water. In addition to the roasted Jaguar, the "Fryscraper" set a barber shop's carpet on fire and shattered a restaurant's slate floor tiles. It also, naturally, became a tourist attraction, with people gathering in the unseasonably warm afternoons to fry eggs and toast baguettes in the glare. 

Surely the building's designer was mortified by the results of his creation, right? Well, no. When architect Rafael Viñoly was questioned about his flawed design, he heartily deflected, blaming consultants, global warming, cost-cutting developers, and the sun's elevation. This was an especially galling disavowal of responsibility because the science of solar reflectivity analysis has been gaining traction for several years. There are many tools, firms, and even apps available to architects and developers to help avoid just this problem. Especially damning for Viñoly is that the "death ray" issue was not actually unprecedented. And the last time a high-profile building had had problems of this nature, it was also one he'd designed. 

article-image
Vdara Hotel in Vegas (photo by brx0 / Flickr)

In 2010 guests at the Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas began complaining that sometimes the sun got so hot on the pool deck that it melted plastic cups and bags. One man even attested that it scorched his hair. Hotel staff was already aware of the problem, which they had dubbed the "Vdara death ray," though management insisted on calling it "solar convergence phenomenon." 

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