After roasting cars and carpets, London’s 20 Fenchurch Street, nicknamed the Walkie-Talkie Tower, has itself been roasted as the winner of the Carbuncle Cup, British architecture’s least desirable award.
Building Design magazine, which organizes the award, described the tower as a “gratuitous glass gargoyle.” The structure, designed by Rafael Viñoly, has struggled for any form of critical acclaim since it opened in 2010. “It is a challenge finding anyone who has something positive to say about this building,” said BD editor Thomas Lane. The Guardian‘s architecture critic, Oliver Wainwright, was just as unforgiving when he likened the structure to a “sanitary towel.”
Londoners have claimed that the Walkie-Talkie, nicknamed for its visual resemblance to the handheld communication device, has blown them away—and into the street. Twenty Fenchurch Street’s embarrassing wind problem has prompted the City of London to look at “changing the way it works with developers.”
Knocking people off their feet isn’t the only accusation lobbed at Viñoly‘s design. In what is becoming a growing list of misdemeanors, developers of 20 Fenchurch Street have had to pay £946 ($1,500) in compensation after the tower burnt a Jaguar and a hole into a shop carpet. A screen has been built to halt the reflective death-ray.
In its turbulent start to London life, the building’s reflective power has been harnessed by the locals, as one resident was able to fry an egg with the building’s glare. That led to another nickname, the “fryscraper.” “When I once described Rafael Viñoly as a menace to London,” tweeted ex-RIBA president George Ferguson, “I didn’t think he was going to burn it.”
The architect’s proposal has prompted equally vicious responses during its planning stages. UNESCO voiced its distaste for the design and English Heritage bestowed it as a “brutally dominant expression of commercial floor space” with an “oppressive and overwhelming form.”
Peter Wynne Rees, chief planner of the City of London, has since admitted he made a mistake for the building’s location, saying that he was persuaded by the project’s public element, a 525-foot-high garden. Even this signature feature has been the subject of scourge. Wainwright, who is clearly not the building’s biggest fan, wrote in the Guardian that it “feels like you’re trapped in an airport, you can barely see the city because of a steel cage – and the more money you shell out, the worse it gets.”
Twenty Fenchurch Street’s issues with sun glare are nothing new to modern architecture however. In Las Vegas, the Vdara Hotel startled Bill Pintas, a Chicago lawyer and businessman, when he started to smell his hair burning. “I actually thought that, Oh my God, we’ve destroyed the ozone layer because I am being burned,” Pintas told NBC’s TODAY show back in 2010. “My head was steaming hot… I could actually smell my hair burning.”
In Dallas, too, the Museum Tower by Scott Johnson has been subject to criticism as it fried artwork at its neighbor, the Nasher Sculpture Center. And of course, Gehry‘s Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, drew international attention for sizzling surrounding buildings and blinding drivers.
Blustery conditions from skyscrapers are also no new problem. New York City’s Flatiron Building caused an “ankle-revealing sensation” in the early 20th century with winds it sent rushing to the sidewalk. In 1983, engineering consultant Lev Zetlin asked for laws to halt the wind-tunnel-effect termed “downdraught” in New York.