Would you like to read an excellently sullen interview with a man who has designed a building that gets too hot and sets little bits of London on fire every day? You would? Excellent. Let us jump right in.
“We made a lot of mistakes with this building,” admitted Viñoly, “and we will take care of it.”
So far, so good. The name “Walkie Talkie” is terrible, of course, so we will have to come up with a better one, but you have captured my interest. He didn’t know how hot things were going to get! What is he, some sort of heat-predicting architect? Temperatures can be a lot of things, you know. There can be clouds, sometimes, and also wind. He’s just there to make the building go up. He can’t be held responsible for any fires his building may cause.
But it was this week renamed the Walkie Scorchie when it was found that the concave shape of the building was channelling the sun‘s rays into a concentrated beam onto Eastcheap, capable of singeing carpets, blistering paintwork and even melting parts of a car’s bodywork. One cafe in the focus of the building’s glare even managed to toast a baguette and fry an egg outside their shop.
“I knew this was going to happen,” said Viñoly, speaking to the Guardian on Friday. “But there was a lack of tools or software that could be used to analyse the problem accurately.”
What a tremendous meeting that must have been. Everyone in their crispest pantsuits and most vertical ties, happy and a little tired and more than ready to finish the project. The end of a long meeting at the end of a long day at the end of a long week. The boss smiling. Everyone else smiling too.
“So,” she says brightly, “any last points of order before we take off for the weekend? Not that any of you are eager to rush out of here.” A tired but unforced chuckle ripples around the room, followed by silence.
“Oh,” the architect says casually, as half of the table has already begun to rise out of their chairs, “the building is going to set some things on fire, sometimes.”
Everybody sits down. Another chuckle travels around the room, a little less unforced this time.
“I’m sorry?” the boss asks.
Viñoly spreads his hands. “It’s going to set some things on fire. If it gets hot out. I don’t know…I don’t know if you have any way of measuring that. Any tools, that is, for measuring if it will get hot.” Silence and stares.
“I’ve known this for ages,” he continues. “Did you not…did you not see that big X on the blueprints? ‘This spot may turn into a death ray if the sun shines on it’?”
“I thought that was a joke…” one of the junior associates says quietly. “Like…I didn’t really think that you knew the sun would make this building actually set things on fire.”
“Oh, it’s definitely going to do that,” Viñoly says, closing his briefcase and standing up to go. “It’s going to set all kinds of things on fire, probably. Who can tell with this sort of thing. Certainly not me.”
“When it was spotted on a second design iteration, we judged the temperature was going to be about 36 degrees,” he said. “But it’s turned out to be more like 72 degrees. They are calling it the ‘death ray’, because if you go there you might die. It is phenomenal, this thing.”
It is phenomenal. If you go there, you might die. The world is full of so many things, some of which are buildings that can set you on fire and kill you, right in the middle of London. Is this really something we can blame on the designers? Is it not the fault of the sun, whose daily positions are erratic and hard to pin down?
The developers have blamed the problem on “the current elevation of the sun in the sky,” a position Viñoly seems inclined to share.
“When I first came to London years ago, it wasn’t like this,” he said. “Now you have all these sunny days.”
The London Viñoly knew was a different city. A city of shillings and ha-thru’ppences, of the King’s freshly milked tea every noon at four o’clock, of hansom cabs and a new hat for every hour of the night. Now, there’s no telling what can happen. The sun comes up, and goes down, often in the very same sky, and chavs wander the streets, stabbing each other in an attempt to locate the delicious tikka masala that runs in each of their veins. Soon, though, they will burn. They will all burn.
Viñoly is currently working on a similar building that has yet to be constructed in China. No word yet on where the sun plans to be on that side of the world.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.