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pardon me, but your building melted my car.
September 3, 2013 6:40 AM   Subscribe

"The owners of the 37-story tower known as the Walkie Talkie in the City of London financial district are investigating a light beam cast by the building that’s so intense it melted parked cars." Jaguar owner Martin Lindsay was none too pleased by this evidence of the laws of physics. And architect Rafael Vinolyapparently hasn't learned from his previous hair-scorching design error in Las Vegas.
posted by Annie Savoy (125 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thank you for clarifying which building it was! They mentioned it here on the news this morning...but without telling you what building it was. This resulted in Shepherd and I going, "Was it the Shard? Surely, it couldn't have been the Gherkin because people would have noticed by now."
posted by Kitteh at 6:43 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Time to set up that solar capture to generate the AC that building must need...
posted by drowsy at 6:43 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wait, it's the same architect as the Vegas thing? (The first thing I thought of as soon as I read the first sentence.)

Are we sure Rafael Vinoly isn't some kind of Bond villain wannabe in training?
posted by kmz at 6:43 AM on September 3, 2013 [52 favorites]


Wait -- London has sunshine?

Capt. Renault -- telling the obvious jokes, so you don't have to.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:49 AM on September 3, 2013 [31 favorites]


That's some fancy architecting to not think a south facing concave wall of glass won't be trouble.
posted by gjc at 6:49 AM on September 3, 2013 [25 favorites]


Apparently in certain conditions the sunlight coming off the side of the Shard is so bright that train drivers coming in to London Bridge (at the base of the building) have been told to wear sunglasses on approach.

London: leading the way in weaponised architecture.
posted by fight or flight at 6:49 AM on September 3, 2013 [45 favorites]


How is it that any architect and/or engineering firm wouldn't automatically know that a reflecting concave surface wouldn't be a potential problem?
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:50 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Hotel pool employees call the phenomenon the "Vdara death ray."

A spokesman for MGM Resorts International, which owns Vdara, said he prefers the term "hot spot" or "solar convergence" to describe it.
"
I believe MGM Resorts International owes me a new keyboard, this is like The front fell off quality comedy gold.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:53 AM on September 3, 2013 [13 favorites]


Whose bright idea was it to put a concave surface on any side of the building that can face the sun?

Always put your concave curves on your north elevation, kids!
posted by chimaera at 6:54 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


If bankers' Jaguars have started bursting into flames, it's probably just my pyrokinesis acting up again.
posted by pracowity at 6:55 AM on September 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


I don't think it's a mistake if he's done it twice, and the beam is reflected to someplace where people are likely to be rather than random-spot-of-neighboring-building. He probably thinks its funny, in an ants-under-the-magnifying-glass kind of way.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:56 AM on September 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


I guess the BBC has fired their professional photographers as well?
posted by DU at 6:56 AM on September 3, 2013 [13 favorites]


"Being in the stream of light was 'like walking through a wall of heat,' James Graham, a consultant at Hydrogen Group Plc, a recruiting firm located near the building, said in an interview."

There should be some sort of journalism rule that anyone you interview regarding something has to be working for or involved in an organizational that is relevant to the situation by name only:

"I heard about the missing zoo monkeys, and I hope they find them quickly" said Hector Mendoza, an assistant manager at Banana Republic. "Monkeys can cause a lot of trouble."
posted by griphus at 6:56 AM on September 3, 2013 [26 favorites]


The building is popular with tenants from the insurance industry because it’s close to the Lloyds of London building.

Mr Lindsay said the developers had apologised and agreed to sort out the £946 repair costs.

It would seem paying the claims might be cheaper than fixing the building.
posted by three blind mice at 6:57 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I work in a seven year-old Rafael Viñoly building. Looking at curved areas of glass, I'm guessing there's probably a few unintentional solar lenses here, as well. Fortunately there is no single large vertical area of glass, so we might be safe...
posted by pmbuko at 7:00 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


: wanders along sidewalk, looks up, spots pmbuko, waves, bursts into flame :
posted by kinnakeet at 7:04 AM on September 3, 2013 [23 favorites]


Make no mistake - the Walkie Talkie will be lethal during the fleeting 'summer' months in London, but in the dead of winter that kind of solar convergence can be monetized by some enterprising person unless a smoker's colony forms there spontaneously.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:05 AM on September 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


Ah, the pitiable nature of modern architecture. How I long for my gothic spires and flying buttresses.
posted by ChuckRamone at 7:05 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hotel pool employees call the phenomenon the "Vdara death ray."

A spokesman for MGM Resorts International, which owns Vdara, said he prefers the term "hot spot" or "solar convergence" to describe it.


I love the attempt to reign in the negative damage with just using words. Reminds me of my legal research and writing professor who in her previous life was in insurance defense. In writing about a helicopter crash, she simply described it as "an unscheduled landing."
posted by tafetta, darling! at 7:07 AM on September 3, 2013 [15 favorites]


Action movie setpiece: the building is a ready-made lighting mechanism for a truck bomb. Our heroes stop the bomb by blowing up ALL THE GLASS at the last minute, for which occasion they have to plant a bunch of bombs by abseiling down the surface in a death-defying action sequence.
posted by gauche at 7:07 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


London: leading the way in weaponised architecture.

Preparation for the Pacific Rim sequel, Mid-Atlantic Rift.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:09 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ivan F.: How is it that any architect and/or engineering firm wouldn't automatically know that a reflecting concave surface wouldn't be a potential problem?

Have you ever worked with architects? Interesting people but sometimes... *shakes head*

Also, now that the city marked the parking spaces as off-limits, the road itself will be melted. Much better!
posted by wenestvedt at 7:10 AM on September 3, 2013


I TOLD YOU TO STOP PLAYING WITH YOURSELF, KENT
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:10 AM on September 3, 2013 [21 favorites]


I have the feeling that somewhere in Mi5 studios, Jamie Hyneman is turning to Adam Savage and saying "We've already revisited that myth twice. Enough."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:12 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Now that my Vdara Death Ray* is operational, all those fools shall rue the day they trifled with Dr. Apocalypse!

[*See ish. #122 - Ed.]
posted by griphus at 7:13 AM on September 3, 2013 [10 favorites]


"Walkie Talkie"? What were they?
posted by Segundus at 7:14 AM on September 3, 2013


This makes a certain kind of awful sense in a London context. Even in the midst of a chronic shortage of affordable housing in the city, the focus of much of the new development is on building luxury apartments for the global rich. The point of these things is not to house people. In the best case scenario, they might be twelfth or twentieth homes, to be lived in during the one or two weeks a year their Russian or Qatari owners are in town on a shopping trip. In most cases, though, they won't be lived in at all: just maintained as "investments" on someone's portfolio.

A building that actively seeks out and harms the human body fits in rather nicely with the anti-humanism of London's current architectural and political climates.
posted by Sonny Jim at 7:16 AM on September 3, 2013 [42 favorites]


Exploding colostomy bag
posted by ackptui at 7:29 AM on September 3, 2013


2 years ago my wife and I had a connecting flight at Heathrow between India and Boston, and we decided not to take a Heathrow nap. We're not made of money, and we would not have another chance to see London again for a long while, so we got tickets on the Express, and roamed London, in a sleep deprived daze, until it was time to take the Epxress back and take off.

Most superficial visit to London. Ever.
Even for Americans.

Best part: London itself. And security procedures in Heathrow were efficient and sensible enough to let us get away with this.

Worst part: that fucking Shard looking down at us like the Eye of Sauron, no matter where we climbed up from the Underground. Why, Londoners? WHY?? We Yanks made these mistakes so the rest of you would be spared the task of repeating them.
posted by ocschwar at 7:32 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


So how the hell do they fix this? Can they coat the glass to be less reflective or something? Giant umbrella?
posted by zarq at 7:33 AM on September 3, 2013


Block the sun.
posted by griphus at 7:35 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


So how the hell do they fix this? Can they coat the glass to be less reflective or something? Giant umbrella?

Yes. That's step 1. Step 2 is you chance the moldings for every window so the alignment is off a little bit more. Step 3 is you buy those parking spaces and put somethign there that can take this kind of abuse and maybe do something useful. Newstand, perraps.
posted by ocschwar at 7:35 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Step 3 is you buy those parking spaces and put somethign there that can take this kind of abuse and maybe do something useful. Newstand, perraps.

Yes, by all means put lots of combustible paper under the death ray.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:38 AM on September 3, 2013 [28 favorites]


griphus: "Block the sun."

While cackling madly, à la Montgomery Burns.
posted by zarq at 7:39 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think a more likely set of solutions is: Step 1: do nothing. Step 2: complain about it while still doing nothing. Step 3: be irritated by the inevitable tourists who will blunder into it by mistake and get fried.
posted by Sonny Jim at 7:41 AM on September 3, 2013


Frank Gehry's shiny, shiny Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown LA had to be scratched up and matted down to tame the reflected glare following complaints from the neighbors.
posted by notyou at 7:47 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Do solar cells exist that could absorb this kind of super-intense light? This seems like a serious opportunity to capture solar energy -- maybe put a small structure where those parking spots are, and cover its roof with solar collectors (or find the best area in space for solar collectors - maybe 15 feet in the air over the street or something).

It's possible this might even be an intentional effect for future building - if you can focus the sun's reflection from a large surface area onto a small solar collection area, maybe it could make solar energy more available in some parts of the city.

Yes, I realize that London's cloudy a lot - I wonder if this reflection makes a small area essentially sunny on a foggy day, though?
posted by amtho at 7:48 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, I realize that London's cloudy a lot - I wonder if this reflection makes a small area essentially sunny on a foggy day, though?

There's not just that/ THere's also the angle of the sun. Since this story is hitting in September, I'm betting the other time this happens is April, and the rest of the time the reflection is unfocused. You need movable mirrors to do concentrated solar.
posted by ocschwar at 7:50 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have a bit of a morbid fascination with giant architectural fuckups. Humans are just generally awful at risk analysis, and even if someone did foresee that this could be a problem I'm sure it was waved away with a "What's the worst that could happen?" design meeting (accompanied with staggeringly terrifying cost amounts for the remediation effort). So it gets left alone until it actually does become a huge problem, and now the costs to fix it have skyrocketed.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:50 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Civil engineers are actually very good at this kind of risk analysis.

THe problem is when egomaniacal architects decide they can ignore it.
posted by ocschwar at 7:53 AM on September 3, 2013 [12 favorites]


True, but no civil engineer I've ever worked with would even bother to start thinking about the reflections coming off a building.
posted by LionIndex at 7:56 AM on September 3, 2013


So does any one want to venture a guess at how hot that Jag was getting to warp steel(?) like that?
posted by longdaysjourney at 7:59 AM on September 3, 2013


Do solar cells exist that could absorb this kind of super-intense light? This seems like a serious opportunity to capture solar energy [...]

Heating water is a better application for this kind of configuration - more efficient if you have the power density for boiling, and the plastic parts, cable insulation etc. in PV panels probably would not enjoy the scorching heat anyway.
posted by Dr Dracator at 8:06 AM on September 3, 2013


And security procedures in Heathrow were efficient and sensible enough to let us get away with this.

This was the Heathrow that exists in the Star Trek mirror universe?
posted by digitalprimate at 8:08 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yes. That's step 1. Step 2 is you chance the moldings for every window so the alignment is off a little bit more. Step 3 is you buy those parking spaces and put somethign there that can take this kind of abuse and maybe do something useful. Newstand, perraps.

Steps 4-348: Endlessly moving it as the sun shifted from season to season and indeed hour to hour.
posted by jaduncan at 8:10 AM on September 3, 2013


It's not like the architect needs a PhD in photonic physics, geez. If you plan to put lots of reflecting bling on your building, it should be common sense to first check if you're not creating visual hazards or just places where working or walking through becomes an unnecessary pain in the ass. If you get that wrong enough that things start MELTING you should be fired and probably have your license suspended until you learn back that common sense I was talking about.
posted by Iosephus at 8:11 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Well, first we had Strategies Against Architecture - I guess this is architecture fighting back.
posted by Dr Dracator at 8:18 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


So how the hell do they fix this?

In the case of the same architect's Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas, the hotel first tried cheaper solutions but eventually placed a reflective film over the windows that blocks about 70 percent of the light.
posted by Annie Savoy at 8:20 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


jaduncan: "Steps 4-348: Endlessly moving it as the sun shifted from season to season and indeed hour to hour."

Or may be design the building such that that particular structure is always in the middle of the hot spot?

These spots do move, but they will move in a limited area and have a predictable size. so why not design a building such that some part of the hot spot always falls on that structure.


Could be something useful while turning a bug into a feature.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 8:21 AM on September 3, 2013


We are having a similar problem here in Texas. Nearly cooked a Picasso, definitely killed some plants.
posted by emjaybee at 8:23 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


I long for the day when the big name architects are the ones who recognize that people have to live and work in and around their creations, and design accordingly.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:33 AM on September 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


Are we sure Rafael Vinoly isn't some kind of Bond villain wannabe in training?

Carmelter,
He's the man,
The man who will melt your car,
Reflecting stars.
Carmelter,
Pretty girl,
Beware when you park in town -
He'll melt you down!

"So, Mr, Vinoly, do you expect me to talk?"

"No, Mr. Bond! I expect you to use your government connections to get my construction plans approved! Or your precious Aston Martin will start to look like your undershorts on the morning after. Wet, wilted, and not rising anytime soon. Ha, aha, ha, HA HAHAHAHA!"
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:39 AM on September 3, 2013 [34 favorites]


A visionary architect could design a building like this but with lots of sunshine focal points, all targetting public solar ovens in the streets around it where ordinary citizens can bake their bread rolls for free
posted by Bwithh at 8:40 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the case of the same architect's Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas, the hotel first tried cheaper solutions but eventually placed a reflective film over the windows that blocks about 70 percent of the light.

The film, according to the story linked to in the post was "not enough," as poolgoers' hair is still being singed.


Could be something useful while turning a bug into a feature.

More like turning a bug into a briquette.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:41 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


A visionary architect could design a building like this but with lots of sunshine focal points, all targetting public solar ovens in the streets around it where ordinary citizens can bake their bread rolls for free

Or have it ignite a torch on a specific anniversary.
posted by acb at 8:42 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


And security procedures in Heathrow were efficient and sensible enough to let us get away with this.

This was the Heathrow that exists in the Star Trek mirror universe?
posted by digitalprimate at 8:08 AM on September 3 [+] [!]


Compared to the US e.g. the Canada-US border at Toronto airport literally has a DMV (driving license registration office)-style waiting room with a ticketing system as an *additional* stage to the usual queues now
posted by Bwithh at 8:42 AM on September 3, 2013




And security procedures in Heathrow were efficient and sensible enough to let us get away with this.

This was the Heathrow that exists in the Star Trek mirror universe?


After boarding umtpeen US domestic flights over the last few years, I am more than ready to describe Heathrow in precisely those terms.
posted by ocschwar at 8:51 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


So how the hell do they fix this?

Tethered dirigible, probably with the same kind of *cough* subtle sponsorship as Premiere League jerseys.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:51 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


How to start a fire with a coke can and chocolate bar.
posted by snaparapans at 8:51 AM on September 3, 2013


> They have described the problem as a phenomenon caused by the current elevation of the sun in the sky. It is thought it can last for two hours a day and might only be a problem for the next two or three weeks.

Comedy gold. The sun's path in the sky is only one of the earliest scientific questions in human history, and the most predictable natural feature on earth, upon which our entire calendar system is built. What a colossal fuckup.

I'm guessing this 'death ray' will track across rooftops and melt asphalt the rest of the season.
posted by anthill at 8:54 AM on September 3, 2013 [15 favorites]


London: leading the way in weaponised architecture.

Preparation for the Pacific Rim sequel, Mid-Atlantic Rift.


Laugh all you want but somebody has to be prepared if the Zygons send the Loch Ness Monster up the Thames again.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:01 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


...and the most predictable natural feature on earth...

Unless of course our architectural hubris angers Helios, who then uses the product of our arrogance as the means to our destruction. Which I believe is what happened here.

Architecture 101, folks.
posted by griphus at 9:02 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I believe that's also covered in Snarkitecture 102.
posted by kmz at 9:03 AM on September 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


Not the same guy, but the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas is engaged with a really ugly fight with a neighboring building over a similar issue, except that it's hurting their art and killing off their garden.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:04 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


They should run a contest for an artist to make some kind of nice installation for this hotspot that uses the death ray for good
posted by Bwithh at 9:05 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe they will get lucky and all the offending windows will fall out on their own.
posted by TedW at 9:07 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


True, but no civil engineer I've ever worked with would even bother to start thinking about the reflections coming off a building.

If I had previously designed a building whose concave surfaces acted as an Archimedean death ray I would in future think about the reflections coming off my buildings. Once is a bizarre accident, twice is criminal negligence.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:20 AM on September 3, 2013 [11 favorites]


To be fair, the cars were made of chocolate.
posted by brundlefly at 9:22 AM on September 3, 2013 [13 favorites]


If I had previously designed a building whose concave surfaces acted as an Archimedean death ray I would in future think about the reflections coming off my buildings. Once is a bizarre accident, twice is criminal negligence.

Well, with the fact that it's happened before, and the Disney Concert Hall, which is widely known about in the field, yeah, it's definitely an architectural fuckup. I was responding to the prior comment and saying that I don't think light reflection is ever in a civil engineer's scope on a building project. Civil engineers are generally good at what they do, but they don't usually do light studies.

Also, we've just recently gotten to a point (thanks to software) where a majority of architects could actually run a solar study on a building to see if the building does anything odd. Prior to about 5 years ago, you'd do studies of a few key times in the year, so it's quite easy to miss a condition that happens for a few hours a day a few weeks out of the year. But even then, in doing the study you'd be more worried about sunlight's effects inside your building (glare, heat gain, etc.) than you would with reflections.

I actually don't know if the widely-available software (Revit) will even model for reflections - maybe I'll build a little model today and see.
posted by LionIndex at 9:31 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


What you really need are two of these buildings so they can amplify the beam between them...
posted by Karmakaze at 9:35 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I live quite near the second tallest building in Ireland. We love it because right in the coldest, darkest part of winter we get an unexpected extra hour of mild, late afternoon sunlight in our north-facing living room thanks to the reflection. I always feel a warm affection when I see the building loom on the skyline thanks to its bonus sunshine.
posted by shelleycat at 9:36 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ahh I love this. Really I do. I am also most pleased that I decided against putting my Giant Ant Museum and Garden in a vacant lot 250 m from Vdara.
posted by Mister_A at 9:37 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


You'll be changing your tune when the asteroid approaches and we need a primary mirror for a hastily improvised giant reflecting telescope.

(Of course there's just the issue of pointing the thing, but Top Men are working on that right now)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:38 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I suspect that this is actually quite a hard thing to model precisely and that to some extent there will always be an element of correcting problems as they arise involved in these sorts of situations. IIRC, the claim made about the Walt Disney Concert Hall was that the panels ended up being installed very slightly out of alignment with the way they'd been planned, and that that had been sufficient to cause the problems. Whether or not that's true, the fact that the "fix" was as small as changing the finish on the panels from gloss to matte (and that the fix for the Walkie-Talkie will probably amount to nothing more than some slightly different glass in the windows or an applied layer on the existing glass) shows that we're dealing with effects that are highly sensitive to fairly minor changes. I could well believe that they did their due diligence in the planning stage (as they claim to have done) and that this effect simply didn't show up at the modeling stage.
posted by yoink at 9:46 AM on September 3, 2013




Bad news for Speaker-to-Animals.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:50 AM on September 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


Ah, the pitiable nature of modern architecture. How I long for my gothic spires and flying buttresses.

Bring me the heads of Walter Gropius, Mies Van Der Rohe, and Frank Lloyd Wright!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:52 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Carmelter   (Wah WAAAAAAH Wah!)

FTFY.

Doesn't scan, otherwise.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:53 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


I suspect that this is actually quite a hard thing to model precisely

If so, just take it as a general rule that you shouldn't put a concave surface on the south side. If you know it can cause harm and you can't demonstrate by modelling that your design won't cause harm then don't do it, especially if you are an architect who has done this before.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:56 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


It used to be that starchitects displayed their staggering egos & general disdain for the proles who will actually inhabit the edifices they design by coming up with ginormous signature eyesores that function poorly as buildings and don't learn as they age (but which photograph well for the magazines).

Now they're straight up designing buildings that break your shit and injure you.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:57 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Nope, Revit don't do reflections. I even made a model out of mirrors, and nothing shows up on the ground plane but shadows. So, aside from having a rendering program that does handle reflections, or having a mathematician calculate the sun path off a curved surface for every solar hour of a year, this isn't something that can be predicted beyond thinking "hmm...maybe a specular concave surface isn't really a good idea". Even that might seem obvious, but Frank Gehry has done a ton of buildings just like Disney by now, and that's the only one that's had a widely known issue.
posted by LionIndex at 10:00 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


If so, just take it as a general rule that you shouldn't put a concave surface on the south side.

Sure, but that'll still leave you vulnerable to fuckups. The sun moves, enough that every side of a building will see direct sunlight at some point of the year. Depending on your location, the sun at 3pm hitting the western side of the building could still produce a pretty bad outcome. If I remember correctly, the problem with the Disney was actually on the west side of the building.
posted by LionIndex at 10:04 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I suspect that this is actually quite a hard thing to model precisely.

Considering that we can model optics well enough to create an Earth-bound telescope better than Hubble, it's probably not that hard. Whether optical effects are actually modeled by architects is another question entirely.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 10:04 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


If so, just take it as a general rule that you shouldn't put a concave surface on the south side.

We'd need a much, much bigger database of "total number of buildings with concave surfaces on south side" and "total number of those buildings that have caused problems of this kind" before we could say that that was or was not a reasonable rule of thumb. This building didn't kill anyone, everyone harmed by it can and will be made whole by the building owners and the fix is relatively easy. I'm not sure why some people are getting quite so excited about this.
posted by yoink at 10:05 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Considering that we can model optics well enough to create an Earth-bound telescope better than Hubble, it's probably not that hard.

You are, I imagine, aware of the difference in precision that goes into manufacturing telescope mirrors and windows on a skyscraper, no? You may also recall that when Hubble was launched they discovered that they'd fucked up the manufacture of the mirror--giving, again, a pretty good example of how sensitive these things are to even microscopic variations in surface.

I'm not saying that this is a difficult problem if you can say "assume a perfect concave mirror with such and such perfectly consistent refractive properties." I'm saying that that is very likely not to match well with whatever object you actually end up putting up in the sky.
posted by yoink at 10:11 AM on September 3, 2013


I'm not sure why some people are getting quite so excited about this.

This is an example of why:

It used to be that starchitects displayed their staggering egos & general disdain for the proles who will actually inhabit the edifices they design by coming up with ginormous signature eyesores that function poorly as buildings and don't learn as they age (but which photograph well for the magazines).
posted by LionIndex at 10:11 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Walkie Talkie"? What were they?
posted by Segundus at 3:14 PM on September 3


I don't know, but these days they're arseholes on mobiles.
posted by Decani at 10:15 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is an example of why:

You mean "they've found something that kinda-sorta fits a preexisting anti-intellectual, anti-modern, 'they-sure-don't-make-em-like-they-used-to,' 'everything-is-going-to-hell-in-a-handcart' narrative and they're going to run with it no matter what"? Yes, I imagine you're right.
posted by yoink at 10:17 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


"So, aside from having a rendering program that does handle reflections, or having a mathematician calculate the sun path off a curved surface for every solar hour of a year, this isn't something that can be predicted beyond thinking 'hmm...maybe a specular concave surface isn't really a good idea'"

In the (fascinating) article about the Museum Tower and the Nash Sculpture Center that emjaybee linked earlier (and which jetlagaddict also referenced, albeit a different article), two different engineering firms performed a modeling analysis of the reflected light on the Museum Building. It can be done.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:22 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


So now, I assume they're going to erect a giant prism on the street...
posted by Aversion Therapy at 10:24 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


True, but no civil engineer I've ever worked with would even bother to start thinking about the reflections coming off a building.

Soon they'll be offering double majors in Civil and Uncivil Engineering.

Carmelter (Wah WAAAAAAH Wah!)

FTFY.

Doesn't scan, otherwise.


Thanks, mate. I had assumed that the Wah WAAAAAAH Wah was implied, but on matters like these it doesn't pay to go about assuming entire brass sections. (It makes a brass out of u and me.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:24 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


You are, I imagine, aware of the difference in precision that goes into manufacturing telescope mirrors and windows on a skyscraper, no? You may also recall that when Hubble was launched they discovered that they'd fucked up the manufacture of the mirror--giving, again, a pretty good example of how sensitive these things are to even microscopic variations in surface.
Doesn't matter. You can easily model the tolerance and make an estimate of the amount it is focused. You wouldn't want to point even a vaguely blind Hubble at the Sun and you shouldn't point a building that could vaguely cause these problems at the Sun either.
It's easier for an architect to avoid the issue because for one thing you know your errors are huge in comparison and for another it isn't usually a fundamental requirement to have a big shiny south facing bowl in your design.
posted by edd at 10:24 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the (fascinating) article about the Museum Tower and the Nash Sculpture Center that emjaybee linked earlier (and which jetlagaddict also referenced, albeit a different article), two different engineering firms performed a modeling analysis of the reflected light on the Museum Building. It can be done.

Like I said, a program that can handle reflections, or hire someone to do just that.

Also note that this was analyzed after the glass started being installed - not in the design process.
posted by LionIndex at 10:34 AM on September 3, 2013


"...giving, again, a pretty good example of how sensitive these things are to even microscopic variations in surface."

Not to pile on, but that's so not comparable. A large, reflective surface on the scale of square meters concentrating sunlight also over square meters sufficient to be uncomfortable to people is not remotely the same thing as reflecting and focusing a few photons of starlight onto a sensor array.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:36 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Put it another way - the adaptive optics mirror on a high resolution ground based telescope is basically a tiny bunch of mirrors reshaping itself continually on a timescale of fractions of a second according to measurements of the incoming wavefront properties to get something in focus to an absurd degree. You'd think one big bunch of large mirrors shaped on a timescale of weeks to a design that has been proposed months ago could avoid being even vaguely in focus.
posted by edd at 10:45 AM on September 3, 2013


And security procedures in Heathrow were efficient and sensible enough to let us get away with this.

Last time through Heathrow the wait times for security were listed as 4-5 minutes. After 30 minutes of utter shambles I came out the other side and asked the supervisor if they were going to update the sign anytime soon.

His response: "We take the absolute minimum time anyone could do it in and put it there."

MFW
posted by fingerbang at 10:48 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


At the opposite end of the precision scale, you have people building their own solar ovens using steel drums and reflective paint. You don't need high precision or reflective efficiency to create hot spots.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:57 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Even that might seem obvious, but Frank Gehry has done a ton of buildings just like Disney by now, and that's the only one that's had a widely known issue.

His Stata Center at MIT (building 32) is directly north of buildings 16 and 56, where there are many biology labs containing incubation boxes: the usual arrangement of clear glass, a tightly set thermostat, and a temperature logger.

It's common knowledge around MIT that the glare from Stata has been enough to hit those two buildings and increase the cost of managing these incubation chambers. Don't expect MIT to admit it for a few more years. Nobody likes admitting they bought a lemon.
posted by ocschwar at 10:59 AM on September 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


So, aside from having a rendering program that does handle reflections

Yeah - to my knowledge the better stuff out there that can handle this is Autodesk Ecotect, or Diva4Rhino (which is rapidly outpacing Ecotect), and to use raytracing software.

You can easily model the tolerance and make an estimate of the amount it is focused.

Ha. The operative word being "easily".

Well, you could raytrace the model of the building taking into consideration average daylight for that lat/long, and the position of the sun in the sky, and try to find if there are any spots where enough rays converge over the course of the year, during the day, to the problematic. But that's just the model, and you'd instead have to deal with the real building.

So you can take into account construction tolerances in the way the slab is poured or the steel structure is fabricated, how the curtain wall is made, and how the curtain wall is hung. You'd have also have to consider that curtain walls are not always flat/planar, and can have a certain degree of flex in it, especially if it's designed to be curved and attached with something like structural silicone. And depending on the construction process, you can have inches of tolerance -- which would alter the surface normals of each curtain wall by ten degrees at a time, if the curtain wall panel is big enough. So a model is going to be wildly inexact and useless.

So maybe you measure the building afterwards. You'd have to somehow measure the exact surface normals to recreate a new model of the building and would then raytrace the building to figure out if there are any new convergence/focus points of sunlight. Building analysis during the construction process has happened before with 3d scanning, but it's the cutting edge of the field -- not to mention that the 3d scanner itself will have a hard time scanning reflective surfaces, and would require a shit-ton of post-processing. But that's too inexact/imperfect. Or if it is, probably super costly, since there are not too many firms that do that kind of scanning/processing/analysis work.

You could possibly reduce the reflectivity of the glass overall -- but this, in turn, means that your solar gain is higher, so your building heats up quicker, so you have to spend way more energy on cooling, so your building becomes super expensive and inefficient and wasteful. Maybe you could reduce the reflectivity of the glass in partial areas, with a ceramic frit screen pattern of some sort. That could work. But would reduce visibility from inside.

You could have a different design altogether, where the curvature of the building is broken up into faceted panels that still form a large convex surface, yet are at scattered angles to diffuse the rays of light. That would work, but would 1) greatly impact the aesthetics of the building, and 2) would possibly be more expensive, because it would greatly increase the complexity of the building wall surface.

In any case - both Vinoly's team as well as the facade engineering team is largely to blame, since that's really their responsibility to figure out the repercussions of having a curved facade.

But it's not so simple as to "easily modeling the tolerance".
posted by suedehead at 11:17 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


So you can take into account construction tolerances in the way the slab is poured or the steel structure is fabricated, how the curtain wall is made, and how the curtain wall is hung. You'd have also have to consider that curtain walls are not always flat/planar, and can have a certain degree of flex in it, especially if it's designed to be curved and attached with something like structural silicone. And depending on the construction process, you can have inches of tolerance -- which would alter the surface normals of each curtain wall by ten degrees at a time, if the curtain wall panel is big enough. So a model is going to be wildly inexact and useless.
If you can't model it well enough that you'll know what it'll look like you might as well give up, and if you do know roughly what it'll look like I don't believe you can't reasonably assess the risk of getting it wrong. You don't need an accurate model, you only need a conservative one.
posted by edd at 11:49 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


The simulation problem is really easy. As a first pass, you just need to assume worst-case scenarios; assume perfect reflection from a sun-width and intensity source at points covering over an entire half-sky and crank a ray-tracer. That should be a terrifically easy problem to solve computationally. Then, if anything problematic shows up, you can make things more realistic to see if they go away on further analysis. For a lot of buildings, the exact glass coating won't matter, but in this one it will. It's important to know that alone.

That said, as yet another person in the Vinoly building pmbuko mentioned above, I'm not at all surprised by this. Even without hot-spots, the main hallways of this building are long, curvilinear corridors that are purely glass on three sides (left/right/above). Particularly at night, the optic properties of this are bizarre, like seeing eight or nine reflections of a person down the hallway who you can't even see directly. In the labs, I've been unable to tell if red wastebaskets are in the lab on one side of the wall or in the hallways on the other (except via logic, natch). Worse, there are desks that the morning sun hits directly, making it nearly impossible to see your monitor until later in the day. It's like the man adores glass, but has no interest in viewing it from anything other than the precise angles he designs for.
posted by Schismatic at 12:07 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Very tangentially related: How to Sun-Cook a Steak in South Africa
posted by rosswald at 12:11 PM on September 3, 2013


This belongs in James Howard Kunstler's "Eyesore of the Month," a part of his blog dedicated to architectural/civil engineering disasters.
posted by dhens at 12:37 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not to pile on, but that's so not comparable. A large, reflective surface on the scale of square meters concentrating sunlight also over square meters sufficient to be uncomfortable to people is not remotely the same thing as reflecting and focusing a few photons of starlight onto a sensor array.

I didn't say it was "the same thing," IF, I said it was pretty amusing to have the Hubble telescope instanced as an example of how ridiculously easy it is to model exactly what real-world optical effects would be and to reproduce your theoretical model in the actual built object when, in fact, the Hubble telescope is a famous example of just how difficult this is. It's easy to model what light does off a theoretical surface, it's hard to model what it does off real surfaces. A thousand and one small decisions that are outside of the purview of the architect go in to making the actual building and creating the actual reflection effects off the facade of that building. The handwaving "oh, why didn't they just model it" line is simply to ignore these real-world complexities.
posted by yoink at 1:05 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Hubble shows it's hard to get light to concentrate exactly where you want it to.

But it also shows that it should be damned easy to assure that the light WON'T concentrate where you don;t want it to.
posted by ocschwar at 1:21 PM on September 3, 2013


"Look upon my works, ye mighty, and degenerate your macula!" - Rafael Vinoly
posted by argonauta at 1:54 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


That should be a terrifically easy problem to solve computationally. Then, if anything problematic shows up, you can make things more realistic to see if they go away on further analysis.

Well of course it's a relatively easy problem to solve with a perfect model. The issue is that the building will not be a perfect representation of the model, nor will it ever be, nor will it be easy to measure those differences. Saying "if anything problematic shows up" is kind of laughably simplifying the issue, when really built objects involve tolerances, margins of error, etc.

It's like saying: "Given a reflective 3d model, can you perform a ray trace? Oh, and the 3d model is always changing. Oh, and the rays are sunlight, so instead of a point source they come from an infinite distance, so any small movement of the 3d model will be as amplified in proportion to the distance of the 3d model to the retina/imaging surface (in this case, the hood of the Jaguar)."
posted by suedehead at 2:02 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Look for an enormous pair of branded sunglasses or giant bottle of suntan lotion to appear in that parking spot.
posted by horsewithnoname at 2:17 PM on September 3, 2013


The developers say they're going to erect a screen at street level: "This solution should minimise the impact on the local area over the next two to three weeks, after which time the phenomenon is expected to have disappeared."

Neighboring businesses are reporting a doormat set on fire, bubbled paint, and fallen tiles.
posted by Annie Savoy at 2:34 PM on September 3, 2013


So the windows melted his car? How about windows that decapitate your mom?
I was working in the building when this happened.

Also, what is it with these window incidents and insurance companies? Lloyds, CNA, and John Hancock....
posted by dhartung at 2:35 PM on September 3, 2013


The thing is the models are so simple and linear it makes it hard to believe you can't reasonably Monte Carlo it and check for a low grade focus across quite a conservative region.
posted by edd at 3:02 PM on September 3, 2013



Look for an enormous pair of branded sunglasses or giant bottle of suntan lotion to appear in that parking spot.


_________________
|   Reserved for  |
| Claes Oldenburg |
|_________________|


 
posted by Herodios at 3:32 PM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


So now, I assume they're going to erect a giant prism on the street...

Surely a giant ant.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 4:00 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Do solar cells exist that could absorb this kind of super-intense light?

Yes, though they're expensive, triple junction GaAs PV cells are frequently mounted under large fresnel concentrator lenses.
posted by thewalrus at 4:20 PM on September 3, 2013


Yeah, simulating this would be trivial. It's the same thing as focusing the sun with a magnifying glass to burn leaves. Just bigger and inverted. I'm sure a 19th century sea-captain would have the math and tools necessary.

Fixing it would require much more modelling, however, because each window would need to be adjusted so that it doesn't reflect in concert with others. Basically use the windows to make a convex fresnel lens that is the reciprocal of the focal length of the concave lens they already have.


Yes. That's step 1. Step 2 is you chance the moldings for every window so the alignment is off a little bit more. Step 3 is you buy those parking spaces and put somethign there that can take this kind of abuse and maybe do something useful. Newstand, perraps.

Steps 4-348: Endlessly moving it as the sun shifted from season to season and indeed hour to hour.


Given the scale of this, I would suspect some minor adjustments would enlarge the focal area enough to render it non-dangerous. If they can absorb 70% of the light with a coating, and then knock another good percentage off be de-focusing, it should be fine. They don't even have to make it perfect, just make the focal points 30 feet in the air instead of near the ground.
posted by gjc at 5:20 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


So does any one want to venture a guess at how hot that Jag was getting to warp steel(?) like that?

I asked a 9/11 Truth activist but he assured me that it was impossible and that the Jag never existed in the first place.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:08 PM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


I said it was pretty amusing to have the Hubble telescope instanced as an example of how ridiculously easy it is to model exactly what real-world optical effects would be and to reproduce your theoretical model in the actual built object when, in fact, the Hubble telescope is a famous example of just how difficult this is.

Then you misread the initial comment. It wasn't about Hubble as a good example of modeling, it was about a new earth-based telescope that can resolve better than the corrected Hubble.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:38 PM on September 3, 2013


Well of course it's a relatively easy problem to solve with a perfect model.

This isn't chaos theory; all the math involved is smooth and well-behaved. You don't need a perfect model, or even a particularly good one. You know (or can easily work out) the range of curvatures across the surface. From that you know the range of focal lengths the building might have. From that you can check whether it's even remotely possible that another object could be near the focus. If yes, you can do some slightly more detailed calculations (treating the building as a set of cylindrical sections, say) to see where the caustic can actually be in 3-space. If the answer is still yes, then you can do a more detailed analysis pretty easily, since the BOTECs have told you what location and sun position might be a problem.

This is something a reasonably competent assistant should be able to do in a day. Or less, if you don't restrict them to pencil and paper. Sure, even a starchitect's assitant's time costs money, so maybe it isn't something you'd do for every building you design; but if this building looks a whole lot like other buildings you've designed which have had this exact problem it seems irresponsible not to check. For that matter, you'd expect the customer to think of this.
posted by hattifattener at 9:41 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Step 3 is you buy those parking spaces and put somethign there that can take this kind of abuse and maybe do something useful.

I propose an abstract sculpture, made (purely by happenstance) by a sculptor who was an undergraduate physics lecturer before making it big as an artist, which happens to be kind of reminiscent of a Cassegrain secondary, and to everyone's complete surprise burns a series of slagged channels across the building as the sun traverses the sky each day.
posted by hattifattener at 9:50 PM on September 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


Just designate those three parking spots as loading zones, and they'll be self-enforcing.
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 1:19 AM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


So does any one want to venture a guess at how hot that Jag was getting to warp steel(?) like that?

I don't think that was steel. I think it was plastic molding.
posted by gjc at 3:16 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is something a reasonably competent assistant should be able to do in a day. Or less, if you don't restrict them to pencil and paper.

And Rome was built in a day. You think an "assistant" is going to take a double-curved surface with hundreds of curtain wall panels, take into account the sun paths over the year and corresponding shadows onto the site into account --- in a day, with pen and paper? For a £200M project?

As LionIndex mentioned above, the tools to do this are just emerging relatively recently, with Ecotect/Vasari, Diva, etc. Once you take the variable path of the sun, cloud cover, shadows, all into account, it becomes a liiittle harder. IIRC both Ecotect and DIVA only do solar radiation calculations for the envelope of the building itself. Acoustical raytracing analysis, which is a similar but way simpler calculation (you have a single static point source), is also not so easy, which is why often it's done in plan or section, or roughly modeled with Grasshopper, etc.

Holding Vinoly's office responsible for failing to coordinate with their facade engineers is one thing; being unable to understand the complexity of an analysis like that is another.
posted by suedehead at 7:39 AM on September 4, 2013



As LionIndex mentioned above, the tools to do this are just emerging relatively recently, with Ecotect/Vasari, Diva, etc. Once you take the variable path of the sun, cloud cover, shadows, all into account, it becomes a liiittle harder.


I hear these days you can fire your computers and replace them with machine equivalents.
posted by ocschwar at 8:07 AM on September 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Suedehead, did you read the rest of my comment? You don't actually need to calculate the precise location of the caustic, if you can determine whether it will intersect a physical object or not. You can place successively tighter bounds on it with more involved calculation. I suppose architects don't need to have an analytical mindset, but they should at least employ people who do.
posted by hattifattener at 9:56 PM on September 4, 2013


If this architect has done this 3 times now (London; Vegas; MIT) then I think we can safely assume this is no accident. Obviously he's a supervillain who plans to destroy the world; the interesting question is that of how exactly he plans to do so.

When he completes his seventh great death ray, will his work:

-- ignite all the Earth's existing veins of explodium and blow up the planet

-- form the sigil of an unnameable Elder God and bring on the apocalypse

-- melt holes in the wafer-thin veil of reality

-- superheat the Earth's core like the center of a delicious microwave fruit pie

-- signal the aliens that We Are Ready

-- act as a series of laser pointers to attract a giant extradimensional cat

-- make the world's oceans into a party-sized hot tub complete with bubble jets

-- ?
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:19 PM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Perhaps this is the Temple of the Great Ceiling Cat in the Sky.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:13 AM on September 9, 2013


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