20 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.
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."