Doctors, lawyers, scientists and architects are all people we assume at least sort of know what they're doing. And for good reason: If a barista gets a job that he or she is patently unqualified for, you might get too much mocha syrup in your frappe. But if, say, an architect has an off day, your apartment could fold in on itself the next time you close your bedroom and kitchen windows at the same time. But just because we expect perfection from them, that doesn't mean they always live up to it. Even architects, foremen and chief engineers come in to work hungover once in a while, and that's when we get failures like these.
The Lotus Riverside building complex in Shanghai was a complex of 11 buildings by the side of a river. Imagine that. By June of 2009, the project was nearing completion, with most of the flats already sold off. Then the workers showed up one morning to find that one of the buildings had fallen flat over on its side, completely intact. It was like a giant toddler came by and just smacked it over for the simple thrill of the destruction.
If it had happened in Japan, we would have totally believed that and moved on.
The Embarrassing Failure:
It was all due to an underground parking garage, some rain and a terminal case of made in China.
The building itself was OK -- in fact, considering how well it held together after it "collapsed," we'll go out on a limb and say that it was pretty great -- but problems were all around and, more specifically, beneath it. When workers began construction on an underground parking garage next to the structure, they piled all the dirt from that into a landfill beside a nearby creek. Then they all turned on their jackhammers when a bevy of other engineers came by and repeatedly ignored their warnings about how bad of an idea it is to dam up a river right next to a new construction project. To the surprise of, like, maybe one guy who never got to play in mud puddles as a kid, the creek's banks collapsed and flooded the area. So when it rained soon afterward, the building was basically toast. Its foundations gave way, narrowly missing the neighboring structures, and just barely avoiding kicking off the world's most terrifying domino display.
"OK, so maybe we'll have to knock off the deposit."
Frank Gehry is one of the most prolific architects of all time. His designs range from wavy and crazy-looking to ... well, just wavy and crazy-looking.
Back in college, they called him "Ol' Wavy Building Guy." They weren't very good with nicknames.
Naturally, really thinking outside the box while building your giant boxes is going to lead to some problems, some of which have historically included a building that constantly dumps snow onto passing pedestrians, one that eats women's high heels and one that accidentally fires heat rays at anything nearby.
This will be the last great fortress of man when the Ant Wars come.
The Embarrassing Failure:
As you can tell from the above photo, the building in question is very shiny, and while shiny things are all sorts of pretty (by virtue of their shininess), they also tend to reflect light. If you concentrate that light onto a single area and angle it just right, you get a crude laser. If you're a comic book supervillain, you might use that knowledge to burn your name into the moon. If you're the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, you set your sights a little lower: maybe just heat up some neighboring condos, like the Promenade Towers, by 15 degrees or so. Or nearly blind some drivers at nearby traffic lights. Or, hey -- just see how hot you can get that sidewalk (the answer is a ridiculous 140 degrees). Unluckily for humanity, Frank Gehry gave a building an uncontrollable death ray. But luckily for us, it was more on the terror level of a kid with a magnifying glass than Chairface Chippendale.
And by "us" we mean "the people who have never been near it."
The problem has since been fixed, when workers sandblasted the outside of the trouble areas in order to reduce glare. But hey, if you really want to stay in a building capable of hating you, there's always that one in Las Vegas that shoots a heat ray into its own pool.
What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Except for skin cancer. That shit follows you.
The designers of Tropicana Field, home to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, have a problem: Their building is screwing with the games they want to play inside of it. But strangely, the problem isn't with the actual field. It's on the ceiling. Or more specifically, what is hanging from it.
We're not making a "bats" joke here. We're above that.
The Embarrassing Failure:
For any communists, aliens or alien communists that happen to be reading, the primary mechanic by which the sport of baseball works is the ability to hit the ball as high and far as you can. Everything else in the game is built around that very, very simple fact. So it's kind of important that you don't play it in a place with a lot of airborne obstacles, like a forest, a hot air balloon festival, a flock of furious birds or Tropicana Field.
"Just ... tell everyone to bunt. Problem solved."
That's because there are four catwalks that hang directly over the outfield there. Countless hits that should have rightfully been home runs have instead just thudded off a support structure or landed on a catwalk and rolled off into the waiting glove of an opposing player. And that's if they ever come down at all. Oh, and because the lights are up there, too, the catwalks also occasionally rain superheated glass down on the players below. But hey, we all played with obstacles as kids: the fence posts out past third base, those odd holes in the infield or the occasional ball-eating mastiff that ultimately brought us all together and taught us a little something about friendship.
When all is said and done, the catwalks really lend a kind of childlike charm to the stadium, which we guess is a fair exchange for costing the Devil Rays the pennant that one time.
Winner of the prestigious National Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects in 1977, the John Hancock Center stands as the tallest building in Boston and serves as a navigational landmark for the many, many drunken stab victims who doubtlessly wander those streets every minute of every day.
"I see the Hancock Tower, so that means the way out of Boston is to run screaming the opposite direction."
The Embarrassing Failure:
The building liked to drop windows onto the pavement below. And these aren't your cutesy little house windows, but 5-by-12-foot, 500-pound slabs of aerial death. And it wasn't just a few of them, but hundreds and hundreds of windows hurtling to the streets below. The problem got so bad that whenever winds exceeded 45 miles an hour, police would close off the entire area around the building for public safety. During one windstorm in January of 1973, over 60 windows were knocked loose from the building's facade. By April of that year, more than an acre of the building's exterior was covered in plywood like the backwoods 'shine-shack of some hillbilly giant. They initially painted the plywood black in an effort to hide it, but that turned out to be like slapping a Band-Aid over a zit and telling everybody you got the injury in a knife fight. After a while, some wandering bladesman will doubtlessly show up at school to challenge your rep, and the other kids will find out the truth. In the end, it's better to leave it all out there in the open, embarrassment and all.
"Windows? No, the windows are fine. We just have vampires working on the lower floors."
A team of engineers, architects and builders all got together to work on a solution to the problem, but their findings were kept secret (though eventually it was revealed to be some boring technical crap about lead solder bonding or not bonding properly, or otherwise playing by its own rules like the loose cannon of the periodic table that it is). In the end, the issue was fixed, but only by replacing every single one of the windows at the cost of $7 million. We're assuming somebody had to work in Hancock's garden every day after school until those damages were paid for.
No joke, they actually nicknamed it "The Plywood Palace."
When planning the Citigroup Center in the early 1970s, architect William LeMessurier had a little problem: The prospective site was already occupied by St. Peter's Lutheran Church, and they weren't willing to move. If he was going to build a skyscraper on that plot, it would have to be literally in the goddamn sky. So, rather than (understandably) resorting to arson or witchcraft, LeMessurier opted instead to design an entire skyscraper that hung above a quaint little church. The end result was the Citigroup Center, towering 915 feet over the New York streets and absolutely dwarfing God's modest home far below.
Via Wikimedia Commons
Faith is always an instant away from drowning in shattered glass. What a wonderful metaphor for living in New York.
The Embarrassing Failure:
One day engineer Joel Weinstein was looking at the blueprints and noticed something odd: It was a damn skyscraper on stilts. After a few stiff drinks, he managed to mentally get past that terrifying fact and spotted something else of concern: Quartering winds (winds that strike the corners of the building, rather than the flat faces) would cause far more loading force than they'd initially thought. LeMessurier himself looked into it and discovered that instead of the wind joints being welded on, as he had ordered in the design, the plans were switched to bolts during the construction. Which, no matter how much chewing gum you plaster over them to "really stick 'em in there," is simply not the same thing. So how much difference could it make? Well, with the bolts in place instead of welds, experts predicted that on average, New York City was hit by a storm that could topple the building every 55 years. Should the tuned mass damper inside it fail, that rate drops to every 16 years.
"We've been meaning to replace those brown buildings anyway -- just aim for those."
So then what? They ordered the area evacuated at the onset of every storm? Nope. They at least warned people of the impending disaster? Double nope. They sent out a press release stating that the building was in no danger at all, so shut up and stop worrying about it? Triple nop- oh, wait: That's the one. Hey, way to help banks shed their sinister supervillain images, Citigroup. To their credit, however, Citigroup did request that the Red Cross create secret emergency procedures in the event of a collapse. Yep, that's not evil at all: make plans to deal with all the corpses afterward, rather than work on preventing them beforehand.
Construction workers only operated at night (again, in order to keep it secret), hastily welding all the joints every evening, in a deadly race against the impending hurricane season. And they cut it pretty damn close, too: That year, Hurricane Ella headed right toward New York City. The storm would have absolutely created winds fast enough to topple the building, but by a huge stroke of luck, Ella made a last-minute turn back out to sea and the building was fixed without incident.
"It appears the God of Storms has accepted our sacrificial offer of orphan blood and puppy heads."
But what if things had gone a little differently? What's the worst that could have happened? Citigroup is out an expensive building and maybe a few workers -- but what's a paltry few million and a couple dozen drones to a corporate bank? They can always hatch some more Foreclosure Consultants from the Vault Queen and then it's back to business as usual, right?
Ah, but remember, this building was in the middle of New York City. So if it falls, it's not going to do it all politely with its elbows tucked in. The Red Cross estimated the death toll at a staggering 200,000 people, with 156 city blocks taking further damage.
"Citigroup. Taunting God since 1812."
That's basically the entire island of Manhattan, gone. And all because somebody used the wrong kind of connector. Just something to think about next time you catch yourself replacing that spring with a bent paper clip.
Special thanks to Erik Germ for coming up with the Citigroup entry!
For more ridiculous failures, check out 6 Natural Disasters That Were Caused by Human Stupidity and The 7 Most Disastrous Typos Of All Time.
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