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The Top Ten Architectural Disasters
One of architecture's main principles is that form should follow function. Is it not amazing, then, how many architects have blithely ignored this concept over the centuries? A number of factors can combine to create an architectural disaster. Whether they were caused by poor design, bad execution or a combination of the two, the architectural disasters on this list represent a few of the profession's most notable failures of all time.
# 10: Bobst Library
New York University's Bobst Library was built in 1972. The "stacks" of this 12-story library surround a cavernous atrium, featuring a tromp l'oeil floor that appears to zoom up at onlookers. This effect is rumored to have been a factor in no less than three student suicides. Rather than put carpet over the offending floor, the university installed jump-proof barricades, giving the building all the charm of a federal prison.
# 9: John Hancock Tower
John Hancock Tower in Boston, Massachusetts is a landmark that can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. Unfortunately it is covered in huge sheets of glass that tend to vibrate in light winds, causing them to shatter and fall into the surrounding streets. The architects were forced to replace every single pane of glass on the building's 60-story exterior at a cost of more than $5 million.
# 8: Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health
Love him or hate him, Frank Gehry is here to stay. His bizarre metal facades can be seen on ultramodern buildings all over the world. However, one of his designs that can be considered disastrous is the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, which was erected in Las Vegas in 2009. After all, if you had dementia, would you want to drive up to this monster for your appointment?
# 7: Leaning Tower of Pisa
Some disasters take centuries to build. Italy's Leaning Tower of Pisa is a stunning example. Begun in 1173, it took 199 years to finish. Although builders discovered that the soil below the foundation was too soft on one side as soon as they had added the second floor, they continued building anyway. As the years passed, the building not only began to sink, but to lean as well. Today, its four-degree lean is maintained by lead counterweights to preserve it as a tourist attraction.
# 6: Lotus Riverside Apartment Building
The Lotus Riverside Apartment Building in Shanghai is another prime entry in the "what were they thinking?" sweepstakes. It toppled over in 2009, nearly intact, and pictures of its thankfully uninhabited corpse quickly spread around the world. Perhaps this is proof of the superstition that one should not build 13-story buildings – at least not on pilings that are too weak to anchor the structure when it rains.
# 5: Tacoma Narrows Bridge
The Tacoma Narrows Bridge, spanning Puget Sound in the state of Washington, was regarded as a miracle of modern engineering when it opened in 1940. While under construction, the bridge was nicknamed "Galloping Gertie" for its decking, which tended to ripple in windy conditions. Four months later, it literally shook itself to pieces during a windstorm in the presence of a truly intrepid reporter who captured its collapse on film. It took 10 years to replace.
# 4: Metrodome
The Metrodome stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota simply used the wrong roof in the wrong climate. Designing an inflatable roof for a football stadium in a region known for heavy snows was an invitation for disaster. That invitation has been answered four times, with partial collapses and tears throughout the roof’s history, culminating in a catastrophic collapse in 2010.
# 3: Winchester House
With doors that open onto walls and stairways to nowhere, the Winchester House in northern California is an architectural horror. This house was built by a very rich Winchester Rifle heiress who feared that if she ever finished the house, the spirits of those killed by her father's guns would come after her. To fend off these spirits and prevent her own death, she continued to build additions for 38 years. Perhaps the most compelling disaster in this mishmash is the architectural crime of placing a priceless Tiffany stained glass window in a room without direct light, with a wall behind it. Today, the house is a popular attraction for tourists and architectural train-wreck observers.
# 2: Citigroup Center
It is important that architects carefully calibrate their designs for the wind loads they will have to carry. This is crucial for all buildings, but especially tall ones. The Citigroup Center in midtown Manhattan is a classic illustration of how not to build a skyscraper on legs so you can grab the airspace over a little church. Although the design looked improbable and fragile to begin with, construction proceeded nonetheless. However, the architects failed to calibrate the building's design for quartering winds, which are known to be much stronger than head-on winds. They discovered their error just as the hurricane season began. Rushing to implement a fix, they neglected to inform the public of the danger they were in, especially as a hurricane named Ella was threatening to come ashore. Fortunately, the storm turned out to sea at the last minute, no one was hurt and the building still stands, unlike the reputations of those involved in the cover-up.
# 1: Athens Olympic Village
Finally, unlike most of the other entries on this list, the disaster that the Athens Olympic Village has become is one of big-picture planning, rather than specific oversights on the part of the architects or builders. Six billion dollars were poured from Greece's coffers into some of the most garish and inefficient permanent sports complexes ever built. These huge, hastily built venues immediately began to crack, shedding tiles and concrete with no available money to repair and reuse them. The Olympic Village, originally intended to be used after the Games as permanent housing, currently stands mostly empty except for litter. Worst of all, a giant restaurant built for the Games was only open for a single night in 2004. Most of these buildings will probably be razed when the Greek economy recovers sufficiently to tackle the task. For now, they stand as a crumbling reminder of what not to do when planning a new development.