'Walkie Talkie' Skyscraper's Glaring Problem Fixed, Owners Say

Glare From Walkie-Talkie Building In London Melts Property And Vehicles
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By Brenda Goh

Britain's largest listed property developer is close to solving the incendiary solar glare problem for the "Walkie Talkie," its landmark new 37-story glass office block in the City of London, and it continues to attract tenants, the company said on Tuesday. "Despite the solar glare issue of the summer, occupiers have not been blinded to the efficiency and location of the building. We are close to resolving the issue and it will not delay occupation nor inflate the budgeted cost," Land Securities said.

The skyscraper at 20 Fenchurch Street was dubbed the "Walkie Talkie" by Londoners because of its flared shape but then became known as the "Walkie Scorchie" last summer after it was blamed for scorching the panels of a Jaguar car and the seat of a bicycle parked on a street below. (It's pictured above being photographed by a pedestrian back on in Sept. 4.) But Land Securities said on Tuesday that the scheme was now 56 percent pre-let with a further 20 percent in the pipeline ahead of the building opening to users next April.

Chief Executive Rob Noel told Reuters that that the cost of the solution -- expected to be in the low, single-digit millions -- would be borne by the project's contingency fund and would include solar shading being applied to the tower's exterior. A temporary scaffold screen was put up in September outside the tower to shield affected shops. "The cost will be minimal. When you are pushing the boundaries of physics when building these tall buildings you won't always get it right," Noel said.

Land Securities jointly owns the building with Canary Wharf Group, which is majority owned by Songbird Estates. The skyscraper was one of the projects that Land Securities restarted in London after the financial crisis in a bet that the British capital's office market would face a shortage of space after construction plummeted during the downturn.

"The demand that we said was going to come is now coming," Noel said, adding that it was coming from insurance, business services and media firms as well as a number of foreign banks.

Buildings Accused of Glaring Problems
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'Walkie Talkie' Skyscraper's Glaring Problem Fixed, Owners Say
The concave design of the new 'Walkie Talkie' tower in central London is blamed for creating such a hot zone of light that it purportedly has melted the sides of cars, and ignited carpeting and furniture.

When Houston's Astrodome opened in 1965, proclaimed by its promoters as the "Eighth Wonder of the World," it had to have a roof that admitted enough light to keep its grass playing field green. The problem was, bright sunlight through the Astrodome's clear panels also made it hard for baseball players to catch fly balls. The problem was solved by painting over much of the roof. And when the grass died as a result of that, it led to the creation of a ninth wonder -- Astroturf.

When Los Angeles' gleaming new Walt Disney Concert Hall opened in 2003, it was soon found to be a little too gleaming by passing motorists and by neighbors in nearby condominium apartments who complained of the sunlight reflected off of its polished steel exterior. Disney Hall's neighbors also cited a hike in their air-conditioning costs, and a study subsequently determined that temperatures on the nearby sidewalk were made hot enough to "soften plastic." A tarp was hung over part of the hall as a quick fix until architect Frank Gehry agreed to take some of the shine off his acclaimed design by sanding a portion of its surface.

Before the problems at Disney Hall, critics warned that drivers could be blinded by sunlight reflected from another Frank Gehry design -- the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota -- completed in 1993. But the Minnesota Department of Transportation reportedly conducted studies of the structure and found no problem.

After the Vdara Hotel & Spa opened on the Las Vegas Strip in late 2009, its concave design was blamed for reflecting such intense light off its windows that guests lolling on the pool deck saw their plastic cups, bags and sandals melt -- not to mention complaining of being burned themselves. A film was applied to some of the Vdara's windows in an attempt to solve the problem, along with installing umbrellas and warning signs below. 
The 42-story Museum Tower in Dallas has been accused of reflecting uncomfortably warm and destructive sunlight onto the Nasher Sculpture Center (shown in the foreground) that's damaging its art and gardens. The owners of the condominium complex have argued that the best solution is for the center to install a new light-filtering system, but those at the center say that this would detract from the way its galleries are lit, and do nothing to save its plantlife.

More stories about skyscrapers:
Chinese Firm Plans to Build World's Tallest Building, and Fast
Squatters Organize Co-Op in 'World's Tallest Slum'
Incredible Shrinking Building in Tokyo Skyscraper Demolition (VIDEO)

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