Dangerous Eyesore: "Walkie-Talkie" in London

The London skyline is a curiosity in and of itself. One of the skyscrapers, the "Walkie-Talkie", opened in 2015 and has caused extreme dissatisfaction in the capital city ever since. In this blog post, you can find out exactly what happened and why the building was named the ugliest structure of the year!

We humans have always been fascinated by special buildings. Especially those that are so high in the sky, we can hardly imagine how people are able to create something so impressive. How does it work, and how does a building as high as a skyscraper manage to defy all the forces of nature?

In the construction industry, we have very specific answers, of course. Nevertheless, a certain feeling of awe always arises in us when standing in front of one of these giants. Skyscrapers are created according to the sophisticated plans of bright minds, who have to take into account all possible circumstances and conditions during the planning. This is not always possible, as this case impressively proves.

Which building is it?

The skyscraper we want to talk about is located in London; more precisely, in the center, at 20 Fenchurch Street. It is easily recognizable even from a distance, as the area of the floors increases steadily towards the top, so that the top floor protrudes far above the ground plan of the building. This rather unusual shape earned it the nickname "Walkie-Talkie"; it is also called "The Pint", because it is reminiscent of an overflowing beer glass.

It was designed in 2004 by the well-known architect Rafael Viñoly. Construction began five years later, and in 2015, the skyscraper, built by the real estate companies Land Securities and Canary Wharf Group, opened in the financial district.

The concave, arched, and mirrored facade was originally intended to have a height of 200 m (656 ft), but was reduced to 160 m (525 ft) due to the proximity to St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London. The visual corridors with regard to the city's landmarks should remain unobstructed.

The unique features of the building are its special shape and well-arranged location. Since only the south side receives direct sunlight, the facade is automatically ventilated and the building is air-conditioned efficiently.

The office building includes 37 floors, various restaurants, bars, and its own brasserie. The highlight is the Sky Garden on the 35th floor, London's highest public park. It extends over three floors with greenery, resting places, and a view of the city's sights. Parties and other events take place here as well.

Effect on Londoners

Anyway, what did Londoners say about their new skyscraper? In fact, most agreed: the construction industry had created a new eyesore here. The first objections were raised during the construction.

Seen from the outside, the Walkie-Talkie itself looks like a broad-shouldered banker in a pinstripe suit, bending almost menacingly over all the "normal" buildings. The "Guardian", the most popular newspaper in England, calls it a "diagram of greed", because it becomes more pronounced towards the top. This is good for the owner, as it creates more space for more expensive offices on the top floors.

However, the few positive comments among the general population were not all that the skyscraper received. The Walkie-Talkie received the Carbuncle Cup in 2015. Truly, nothing that a structural engineer would want for their building. Because it is the annual award for the ugliest building in Great Britain, presented by "Building Design Magazine".

Dangerous Walkie-Talkie

"Just a moment," you will say. So far, we have only said that "The Pint" could, at most, be a hazard to your eyes. So isn't the title of this blog something of an exaggeration? Not at all. After all, the aesthetic is far from the only problem with this unusual skyscraper.

Certain important factors were not considered in the structural design. The effect of the building on the environment was neglected here, or at least greatly underestimated. The first problems arose even during the construction.

Strong Downdrafts

The Walkie-Talkie has an almost stunning effect as a skyscraper in the middle of London, quite literally. The wind from the southwest is caught in the curved 36-story-high facade and causes extreme downdrafts that can knock pedestrians off their feet. Coffee shop signs also fly through the air.

Caution! Hot

The downdraft on the Walkie-Talkie was not only the problem. The unusual shape of the building caused far more devastating damage. Due to the concave glass front facing the street, a fatal burning glass effect unfolds. The concave southern facade reflected and focused the sunlight like a burning glass, creating temperatures of up to 90 degrees.

The result was heated stores across the street. In the case of the barbershop across the street, a burn hole also appeared in the doormat. Londoners initially tried to take it with humor and videos went viral, showing English reporters frying eggs on camera in an alcove of the adjacent shop.

However, the facade's curvature caused more victims. The paintwork of parked cars regularly melted under the concentrated sunlight. And the problem was known because as early as 2013, in the middle of construction, plastic parts of car bodies were melting. The culmination of this was that repair costs of almost one thousand pounds were incurred on a high-priced Jaguar within 2 hours of parking.

It took a while for the responsible parties to respond. A lamella grid was added subsequently; it extends over the curved glass front to create a greater shading effect and to prevent further damage.

How can such errors be avoided?

When planning a building professionally, it is important to consider all aspects, including the effect on the surrounding area. Here, it is not only the structural analysis itself that should be free of errors. Fortunately, calculations of wind effects are much simpler today.

We at Dlubal would like to recommend our wind simulation program RWIND to all civil engineers. Using this program, you can quickly and easily determine wind pressures and wind flow behavior on buildings. Download the free trial version today!

More About RWIND Simulation

A similar problem with this burning glass effect has occurred in other buildings designed by Viñoly. In the glass Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas, which opened in 2003, a "death ray" almost formed diagonally downwards through the facade: directly on the swimming pool terrace with its deck chairs. Again, it was necessary subsequently to work on a solution. How can something like this happen twice? Unfortunately, we have no satisfactory answer to that, either.

When planning buildings, only the shadow cast is calculated, but not the effects of solar radiation. This shows again how important it is to look at a construction project holistically and, above all, to learn from the mistakes that have already been made.

In the case of the Walkie-Talkie, or beer glass, in London, another important aspect of the building was not taken into consideration: the people themselves. Because in the end, a building such as this should be created to benefit people. Londoners want to be proud of their cityscape and, of course, the image of their city. Unfortunately, it is very clear that no value was placed on public opinion, and this is reflected in the award for the ugliest building of 2015.


As a copywriter in marketing, Ms. Ruthe is responsible for creating creative texts and gripping headlines.