Monday, September 9, 2013

Architecture—a most irresponsible profession

The other day, Tony crafted a post on how the economics "profession" managed to escape the vengeance of an angry world following the catastrophic failure of their crackpot theories called How economists saved their worthless hides.  With billions of profoundly wounded victims, it is pretty easy to argue that economists form the most dangerous and irresponsible profession on earth.  But in my mind, the second most dangerous and irresponsible profession must certainly be architecture.

Think about it for a minute.  Any building, even the most poorly built, will last at least 50 years.  Expensive buildings crafted from premium materials can last well over 500 years with routine care and maintenance.  So if a building is poorly designed, the results will be around to annoy folks for many generations.  Those bad results include high energy consumption, poor indoor air quality that makes occupants sick, and perhaps the worst—buildings designed to be accessed only by cars that are the prime cause of urban sprawl.

Architects are practiced at explaining away their dangerously crazy designs.  The most-used argument is, "but that is what the client wanted."  Of course, this ignores the fact that most clients have very little imagination and so rely on the architect to imagine what they want for them.

The latest example of architecture gone horribly wrong comes from London.  A building under construction with a concave face has managed to concentrate enough solar energy to actually melt parts on a car parked out front.  This is irresponsible design...cubed!  Take a look at this thing!  Here is another box sticking up in the air trying to draw attention to itself by introducing some curves into the shape.  And it has done that.  The building isn't done and already it has a nickname—the "walkie-talkie."  It's not exactly a flattering name but in the world of real estate speculation, this is like manna from heaven.

The problem is that as anyone who has tried it will tell you, building with curves increases the difficulty at least 10-fold—along with the same orders of magnitude for the possibility of making mistakes.  Those curved walls have hundreds of glass panes—all of them slightly different in size.  Sizing and sealing all that glass has probably been a massive headache.  The same goes for the fabrication of all those structural parts.  While none of these operations is beyond the abilities of a good construction company, it is just more costly to make 2000 critical parts just slightly different in size than 2000 parts exactly the same size.  Buildings like this don't come cheap!

So what we have is an architect who has fallen in love with building in curves hooking up with a developer who loves attention.  Looks and a need for attention drove the "design" of this building.  And the problems of this building reflect these hopelessly shallow motives.  And reflect is the right word.  The new concave south facing wall concentrated enough solar radiation to reshape some parts on a fancy Jaguar.

Just imagine designing a building and not considering the various solar angles.  This sort of calculation is built into every architecture illustration program I have seen.  And if you cannot get something so simple right, it is easy to imagine that hard things to design—proper ventilation of essentially sealed spaces, sustainable waste management flows, access to reliable transportation links, etc.—have not been well- thought-out either.  And god forbid that any of the money wasted on curving walls for no good reason should have gone into constructing an energy net-zero building.  How can designing a good building possibly compete with designing an attention—grabber?  (Of course, a healthy, well-functioning, net-zero building would also garner attention but geeze, who thinks like this?  This is real-estate speculation, remember.)

Of course the real problem here is that these monuments to little dicks affect the lives of so many people—and for a very long time.  And where I come from, this is how one is supposed to calculate the severity of a crime—how many people does it affect?  So are architects as irresponsible as economists?  Close call there, folks!

Developers of new London "Walkie Talkie" skyscraper rush to stop it from melting local property

DW.DE kms/rg (AP, AFP, Reuters) 04.09.2013

Developers of a new skyscraper in London have begun working to resolve an unanticipated problem: a reflection so intense it has "melted" a car. Local business owners have also reported damages from the "fryscraper."

"You can't believe something like this would happen," car-owner Martin Lindsay told reporters. After leaving his prized Jaguar near the so-called "Walkie Talkie"- the newest skyscraper to adorn London's financial district - Lindsay returned several hours later to find one of panels warped, as well as a wing mirror and the Jaguar emblem drooped and misshapen.

"On the windscreen, there was a note from the construction company saying 'your car's buckled, could you give us a call?'," Lindsay said.

The culprit: sun rays reflected from a 37-storey building currently under construction.

Developers Land Securities and Canary Wharf Group blamed the "current elevation of the sun in the sky," which, they added, would soon cease to be a problem as autumn approaches. In the meantime, they would erect scaffolding at the street level to block the damaging rays and have already closed three parking spaces, according to a statement released on Tuesday.

Local business owners criticized the developers for not anticipating the problem at an earlier stage.

"This is a health and safety issue," said local shop owner Ali Akay, who said the rays burned a hole into one of his carpets. "They should have looked into this before they built it."

It was not immediately clear what steps the developers could take to solve the problem now, with the building at 20 Fenchurch Street due for completion in March 2014.

A building contractor told Reuters news agency they might install anti-glare film to the windows, which could stop the rays, but would detract from the building's appearance, which locals already mock for its distinctive flared shape.

"Films can be difficult to retro-fit and look ugly," the contractor told Reuters. "Think what it's like trying to put a protective screen on your iPhone."

Who will take the blame for the mistake also remains unclear. The architect, Rafael Vinoly, was already linked to a similar problem with the Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas several years ago. The hotel reportedly also reflected heat at an unusual intensity, according to US media.

He has not yet issued a comment regarding Tuesday's incident. more
Oh yes, and it is really not the fault of the architect for designing a south-facing concave wall, it is the fact that he has to work with so many consultants.  A kid blaming his homework-eating dog has WAY more credibility.  Architects even sound like economists once in a while.

Architect Behind London's 'Fryscraper' Blames Outside Consultants For Building's Car-Melting Deathray

ROB WILE SEP. 6, 2013

Rafael Viñoly, the architect who designed the skyscraper currently frying eggs and melting cars on a London street, says the building's glitch is not his fault.

Architecture magazine BDOnline's Andrea Klettner reports that Viñoly is instead blaming an army of consultants that he says have invaded the architecture profession, needlessly complicating the design process:
One of the problems that happens in this town [London] is the superabundance of consultants and sub consultants that dilute the responsibility of the designers until you don’t know where you are.
Architects aren’t architects anymore...You need consultants for everything. In this country there’s a specialist to tell you if something reflects. It’s the fault of the architectural discipline which has cast itself into a completely secondary thing.
He also said the design flaw had in fact been spotted, by that the extent of the effect was underestimated:
...the calculations said it was only going to be 36 degrees, but in fact it’s 72”.
It's not clear whether Viñoly addressed the fact that he already designed a fryscraper in Las Vegas four years ago.

In the meantime, the London structure's developers say they are erecting temporary scaffolding to shield pedestrians from the glare. more

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