We are creating increasingly large and complex buildings, and we are creating buildings with quite a bit of exterior reflective glass. That is the way we design them. However, what happens when we create those buildings with contoured shapes so that the reflections of the sun’s rays converge and create a dangerously high heat condition nearby? Think magnifying glass.
Unfortunately, this dangerous peculiarity is happening with increasing frequency. Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles warmed a sidewalk to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. In Las Vegas, the Vdara hotel melted some plastic bags and scorched a guest’s hair. In London, after returning to his Jaguar, the owner discovered the Walkie Talkie tower had melted some mirror and badge pieces on the car.
Amusingly, it seems some parties would like to place all the blame on Mother Nature instead of the building’s inherent design, as in the Walkie Talkie tower case:
“The building’s developers, Land Securities Group PLC and Canary Wharf Group PLC, were quick to respond, releasing a statement blaming the car-melting rays on a particular elevation of the sun in the sky that day.”
[My speculative words]—“Ah, don’t worry ’bout it, mate. Seems it was just the sun’s funny angle that day. There, there. Go on home now and forget ’bout it.”
Ultimately, in every case so far, the building owners took responsibility for all damages. Simultaneously, they took corrective actions to prevent reoccurrences of these hot convergences. In some cases, this involved simply installing large protective canopies over the dangerous areas. In other cases, the solution was to roughen the glass surfaces to reduce their reflectivity or physically realign them slightly to destroy the light-concentrating optics effect.
Next time, let’s hope the building designers do their optical geometry first. We do not want to give anyone any reason to say, “Now that really burns me up!”