London Building Faces Wind, Design Woes


Two years after its facade produced a light reflection strong enough to sizzle parked cars nearby, a new London skyscraper is once again at the center of controversy.

This time, the 20 Fenchurch Street skyscraper (also known as the “Walkie Talkie” building) and its distinctive curved facade is being lambasted for reportedly creating a wind tunnel with gusts strong enough to almost knock people over at street level.

Moreover, the building’s Sky Garden must be reconfigured because, as built, the garden did not match initial design plans, reports say.

Designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects, the 160-meter-tall (525-foot-tall) building features 36 stories, a reflective surface and concave design along its southern elevation.

The building was completed in spring 2014. Its Sky Garden opened in January 2015.

Downdraught Effect

The building has recently produced a “downdraught effect,” or wind outcome at street level, that has garnered the attention of local officials.

Reports say the wind has nearly knocked people over while they were walking past the building and has also caused a food trolley parked below to teeter.  

"It has only really been windy since the Walkie Talkie has been here,” an employee at a nearby cosmetics store told The Times.

“When they were building it and there were the building works going on, it was fine. But ever since they've completed it, the wind really picked up."

Assessment Ordered

In the wake of those complaints, the City of London Corp. has requested an independent assessment of the wind reports submitted at the project planning stage, Dezeen reported.

"The wind outcome at street level experienced post-construction on a number of projects differs somewhat to the conditions we were expecting from the one outlined in the planning application wind assessments," head of design Gwyn Richards told the media outlet.

Walkie Talkie
Diego Delso / CC BY-SA 4.0

The 36-story building has been nicknamed the "Walkie Talkie" due to its shape.

"This is why we are asking for an independent verification of the wind studies on a number of new schemes to ensure as rigorous and resilient an approach as possible."

The forceful wind produced by downdraught effect can be deadly. Dezeen noted that a man was “crushed to death near the 112-metre-tall Bridgewater Place skyscraper in Leeds, after strong winds caused a lorry to overturn.”

Sky Garden Issue

Also, the City of London Corp. has asked the tower’s developers, Canary Wharf and Land Securities, to reconfigure the tower’s Sky Garden after complaints that the built garden did not reflect original design plans, according to Architects Journal.

The garden takes up the top floors of the building and helped the developers ultimately win planning permission for the project, the news journal reported.

City of London officials say there are a few inconsistences with the original Illustrations, including a missing terrace and staircase and a terrace being built larger than originally planned, the Journal said.

The owners are proposing a number of changes to provide required access points.

The City’s planning and transportation committee will consider whether to accept the alternatives Friday (July 31).

‘Walkie Scorchie’

The building was first thrust into the media spotlight in 2013, when light reflecting off the unfinished skyscraper’s curved glass reportedly melted parts of a Jaguar parked nearby.

Shop owners also said the reflection off the building melted some of their merchandise.

The incident sparked a new nickname for the structure—“Walkie Scorchie.”

A sun shade was installed on the building last year.

Rafael Viñoly Architects was also the designer behind the Vdara Hotel & Spa in Las Vegas, NV.

In 2010, reflections off that 57-story hotel caused a similar solar phenomenon.

Local reports said hotel guests complained of scorching burns, while plastic drink cups, flip flops and shopping bags melted on the pool deck below the massive structure.


Tagged categories: Aesthetics; Architecture; Building design; Building Envelope; Building facades; Commercial / Architectural; Design; Europe; Government; Health and safety; Lighting; North America

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