I thought at first it might be the beginnings of an urban myth, when the news hit a few days ago, that the so-called Walkie Talkie skyscraper in London was frying cars and making people on the street extremely uncomfortable. Now we read that it's true. But even more bizarre is the attitude of the architect. I may as well quote Dezeen in full:
"....architect Rafael Viñoly has admitted he knew the facade of his curvy Walkie Talkie skyscraper in London would focus an intense beam of sunlight onto a neighbouring street, but says that he "didn't realise it was going to be so hot".
Speaking to Guardian architecture critic Oliver Wainwright, Viñoly said that his curvaceous 37-storey tower at 20 Fenchurch Street was originally designed with horizontal sun louvres that would prevent a glare strong enough to melt the paint and bodywork of parked vehicles on Eastcheap Street, but that they were removed to cut costs.
"We made a lot of mistakes with this building," he said, "and we will take care of it."
The architect claims to have identified the problem during the design stages, but says he was without appropriate tools or software to analyse the precise effect.
"When it was spotted on a second design iteration, we judged the temperature was going to be about 36 degrees," he said. "But it's turned out to be more like 72 degrees. They are calling it the 'death ray', because if you go there you might die. It is phenomenal, this thing."
He also suggested that the problem could be down to changing climate. "When I first came to London years ago, it wasn't like this," he said. "Now you have all these sunny days. So you should blame this thing on global warming too, right?"Come again? 'I knew, but I didn't realise'? 'We made a lot of mistakes' because we 'identified the problem' but we 'were without the appropriate tools or software to analyse the precise effect'? And this is supposed to be OK in architecture?
I have said it before: I despair. I try to teach architecture students that the tools are in fact out there, to test their rhetoric before it is built and has to be expensively remediated. In the third year of a standard architecture program, they do exercises with professional grade daylight and artificial lighting design software, they achieve familiarity with the analysis grid approach of the industry standard technical analysis package Ecotect (specifically investigating solar gain tradeoffs for natural lighting) and look at rudimentary room acoustics by aiming for recommended reverberation times in their own design of a performance space. The students do it with significant, willing effort, essentially teaching themselves the software.
The aim of this sort of approach isn't to turn architects into engineers, but to give them the means to communicate in integrated design teams, where the architect can ask the right questions, and knows enough not to take bullshit for answers. The problem with this approach, is that when they go on to senior studios and eventually graduate, the architecture profession on the whole cares little about the enthusiasm or the skills such young graduates bring to the marketplace.
So it might be true that there is no convenient tool that might have quantified the pavement temperatures as precisely as '73 degrees', but there is no shortage of tools that would have helped confirm the existence of the problem. But you can tell what the attitude is: 'we judged the temperature was going to be about 36 degrees'. Apparently low grade misery is acceptable. It's only when catastrophe strikes that star architects take it seriously. And even then, they try to be funny.