September 3, 2013 / 6:30 PM / 5 years ago

Developers face heat for London's car-frying skyscraper

LONDON (Reuters) - A new London skyscraper that reflects sunlight at an intensity capable of melting parts of a car became the latest attraction in the city’s financial district on Tuesday as the developers promised to find a quick fix.

The Walkie Talkie tower (R) is seen in central London September 3, 2013. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

The glass-clad tower, dubbed the Walkie Talkie for its distinctive flared shape, was blamed this week for warping the wing mirror, panels and badge on a Jaguar car parked on the street below the 37-storey building that is under construction.

Business owners opposite 20 Fenchurch Street pointed to sun damage on paintwork on the front of their premises and carpet burns. TV crews fried an egg in the sun beam reflected from a concave wall of the tower watched by bemused spectators.

“I thought it was hot in Turkey but this is amazing,” said Ali Akay, manager of the Re-Style men’s barber shop opposite the skyscraper. “The developers have promised to sort this out.”

Motorist Martin Lindsay said he left his car for an hour opposite the building and returned to find the wing mirror, panels and Jaguar badge had “melted”.

“You can’t believe something like this would happen,” he told the BBC. “They’ve got to do something about it.”

Three parking bays were closed off opposite the 239-million-pound tower to avoid more damage, as a steady stream of spectators observed and photographed the intense light.

“When you talk about a meltdown in the city, this is not quite what you expect,” said restaurant manager Simon Lamont. “It’s not even open yet and it’s notorious. They’ll have to rename it the Sun Trap rather than the Walkie Talkie.”

The building is being developed by Canary Wharf Group, which is majority-owned by Songbird Estates SBDE.L, and Land Securities (LAND.L).

It is one of a series of striking, modern buildings to go up in the area of London known as the “Square Mile”, where 300,000 people work in financial and professional services, with other notable towers dubbed the “Gherkin” and the “Cheese Grater”.


A spokesman from the City of London Corporation, which is in charge of planning and building control in the area, said the motorist had been compensated for the damage and City officials were working with developers to resolve the issue.

The architect is Uruguayan-born Rafael Vinoly and the building’s concave design means developers can squeeze more money from its larger upper floors, where the views over London promise to be magnificent and rents are higher.

It is not the first time a Vinoly building has been linked to intense rays of sunlight. The Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas allegedly produced intense areas of heat, according to reports in U.S. media three years ago.

Vinoly was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.

The Walkie Talkie’s developers were scrambling to find short and longer-term solutions to stop the sun reflecting intense beams of sunlight off the building for about two hours a day.

“The architect and engineers did models beforehand as this is a totally new building design, but models are not foolproof and they did not give any cause to suggest this would be an issue,” said a spokesman for the developers.

“The initial suggestions are that this problem will disappear in two to three weeks but we are looking at all options for a long-term solution.”

He said options under consideration included anti-glare film on the windows to disrupt the lens effect, which would not be overly costly nor delay the planned opening in spring 2014.

Other building contractors suggested developers may have to replace whole glazing panels costing upwards of 1,500 pounds each in the problem areas of the tower, or maybe adjust the angle of the panes.

“Films can be difficult to retro-fit and look ugly,” said the chief executive of one major contractor that works in London. “Think what it’s like trying to put a protective screen on your iphone.”

Blame may be levelled at the architect or engineering companies for not spotting the problem, he said, though with Canary Wharf Group as the developer and main contractor it was likely to be resolved quickly internally, he said.

Adding an anti-glare film could prove costly, said Simon Wainwright, managing director of property consultant J Peiser Wainwright. Based on a figure of about 1 pound per square foot, to cover the entire building would cost between 500,000 and 1 million pounds, he said. (Reporting by Tom Bill and Belinda Goldsmith; editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

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