Top Ten Expensive Architectural Mistakes

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Making mistakes is human nature. However, construction mistakes can prove to be costly as reconstruction may take millions of dollars in unexpected investments. Whether it’s due to bad communication, bad planning, or a simple oversight, architectural and construction rework can derail an entire project and dramatically affect budgets. In this article, we identified the top ten expensive architectural mistakes in the world.

The Ray and Maria Stata Center 

Designed by Frank Gehry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2004, the Ray and Maria Santa Center quickly gained attention for its logic-defying angles and walls. MIT filed a negligence suit against Gehry in 2007, claiming design flaws that were resulting in drainage issues and cracks in walls. The construction company, Skanska USA Building, claimed that it warned Garhy about design flaws. Garhy also ignored the repeated requests for using suitable materials from Skanska. The lack of communication between the architect and construction company resulted in a construction mistake for which MIT spent more than $1.5 million on repairs. 

CNA Center

CNA Center is a 44-story building designed by architectural firm Graham, Anderson, Probst & White. Built in downtown Chicago and opened in 1972, the building gained attention from onlookers due to its red-colored exteriors. However, the building had a construction flaw due to which a large piece of window fell from the 29th floor iin 1999. Investigations revealed that the incident happened because of the thermal expansion in the windows. CNA Financial, the property insurance company, paid $18 million to settle the lawsuit. Several consultants and research studies found that the building’s glass could not withstand thermal stress and informed CNA to replace or reinforce them with a restraint system that would hold the cracked glass until it is fixed. However, CNA did not listen to these recommendations. CNA fixed this issue by replacing windows and conducting mandatory checks every month after this incident took place. 

W.E.B. Du Bois Library

W.E.B. Du Bois Library is one of the largest libraries in the United States. The 26-story building owned by the University of Massachusetts Amherst had undergone a phenomenon called spalling where the concrete supports and foundation began to fail. The claim was that the architect who designed the building did not take the weight of books into account. The university has moved 60,000 books out of the building to avoid worsening the damage. The building may even be sinking due to this error and because it was built on the pond-saturated ground. Though Amherst says these claims are overblown, it seems possible that this building can’t be used to its full potential due to planning errors. 

Vdara Hotel & Spa

Vdara Hotel and Spa is a luxury hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. The curvature design makes the hotel visually stand out among the multitude of other hotels and casinos nearby. Guests love the unique design and luxurious amenities offered by the hotel. However, this curved design had a major flaw: it collected and concentrated the sun’s rays and diverted them down into the pool, putting the guests at risk. There were instances that the hair and plastic bags of guests were burnt due to the scorching heat rays. The hotel had to take several steps, including applying a thin, high-tech film to glass panels, installing umbrellas, and putting signage to remind guests about these death rays to address the issue. This construction mistake affected the reputation of the hotel and raised questions about guests’ safety. 

John Hancock Tower

The John Hancock Tower, designed by I.M. Pai and Partners architectural firm, was opened in 1976. This 60-story building won appreciation for its minimalist appearance and striking design. However, the building encountered a major architectural flaw wherein windows have started falling out due to thermal stress. Eventually, John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company spent an additional $5 to $7 million to replace all 10,000 windows with high-strength half-inch thick monolithic glass.

Aon Center

The third-tallest building in Chicago, Aon Center was a visual wonder when it opened in 1973. The entire exterior of the building was clad in Italian Carrara marble which, due to the high cost of the material, had to be cut thinner than what is normally used to clad buildings. In 1974, slabs of Aon Center detached from the building and crashed into the roof of the adjacent building. Investigations revealed that the incident happened because of the unsuitable marble, which underwent a problem called thermal hysteresis or permanent warping. In 1991, around $80 million was spent on refacing the exterior of this 86-story building with more conventional granite cladding. 

The Walkie Talkie 

The Walkie Talkie is the nickname of 20 Fenchurch Street in London. This 37-story skyscraper was built with a budget of £200 million, opening in 2014.  However, the major architectural flaw of this building was its concave mirror that reflected the sunlight onto the street for about 2 hours a day. The reflected light reached temperatures upwards of 90° Celsius (190° Fahrenheit) which was hot enough to crack tiles, char carpets, and even melt components in cars.  The problem was temporarily fixed by placing screens across the building’s curved face. The city officials have suspended three parking bays near the building until a permanent solution is found. Estimates indicate that it would take around £10 million to fix this construction mistake for good. 

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opara House is a well-known multi-venue art center located in Sydney.  As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Syndey Opera House attracts more than 4.5 million visitors a year. However, the major criticism is that it looks better than it sounds. Yes, Sydney Opera House had an acoustics issue. A study published in 2011 by Limelight, An Australian music magazine rated the Opera House’s Opera Theatre as a venue with the worst acoustics. The government of New South Wales spent about $200 million on renovations to address the acoustics issue in the last few decades. In 2009, Nathan Rees, the Premier of New South Wales, stated that the government should invest $1 billion to restore the building and improve acoustics. However, the Prime Minister’s office responded saying that the project was not a priority for the government. 

Walt Disney’s Concert Hall

Walt Disney’s Concert Hall was opened amid much fanfare and received accolades for its futuristic design in 2003. Soon after the opening, an architectural flaw was recognized in the building. The issue was that the sunlight was getting reflected from the shiny stainless steel cladding into neighboring buildings and heating them to 60℃. Walt Disney quickly reacted to complaints and asked the architect to sacrifice the original smooth mirror finish design. In 2005, Walt Disney had spent about $100,000 on a two-step sanding process (vibrational sanding and orbital sanding) to address the issue and bring an acceptable aesthetic look to the building visually. 

Millennium Bridge 

The London Government constructed the Millennium Bridge in 1999 to welcome the new century. It was estimated that the government had spent £24 million on the construction. However, the bridge had no movement stabilizers, causing the bridge to swing or sway when there is an intense wind or too many pedestrians on the bridge at one time. When it opened in 2000, the bridge swayed dramatically due to the footsteps of the public. As a result, the bridge was closed just three days after the opening day. The government eventually spent £5 million on the reconstruction and installed the movement stabilizers. 

Final Word

Impeccable communication between internal departments helps companies avoid costly construction mistakes. An industrial-strength communication tool keeps important stakeholders in the communication loop and gathers inputs from them about architectural, design, and structural issues. 

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