Five Architectural Design Failures That Are Known For All The Wrong Reasons…


It’s all very well talking about the great and the good. We love nothing more than to watch an Oscar-winning performance, take in an unspoiled mountain vista or marvel at the brilliance of one of the old masters’ paintings. After a while, though, it can get a bit, well, dare we say boring? Variety is the spice of life, so they say. The world would be a pretty dull place were we not to have the bad to contrast the good! Architectural design is no different from this, and whilst there have, of course, been a huge number of staggering architectural achievements over the years, here at Munday + Cramer we’d like to pay tribute to some of the… less successful examples. So, without further ado, here are five architectural flops that maybe shouldn’t have left the drawing board…

The Leaning Tower Of Pisa – Italy

What better place to start than with the Italian tower that’s had one too many to drink? A now globally-recognised tourist attraction, the Pisan projection started life all the way back in the fourteenth century. Whilst blame cannot be lain entirely at the feet of the architects behind its construction, they’re not exempt from criticism.

The origins of the ‘lean’ lie in the soft conditions of the ground on which the tower was erected, paired with a lack of adequate foundation work. Given just how iconic the tower’s become, you wonder if the architect wouldn’t somehow be quite pleased with his mistake! Good architectural design? Clearly not. A good photo opportunity, on the other hand, well now we’re talking…

The Tay Bridge Disaster – Scotland

Whilst this work of civil engineering might stretch the confines of what we’re deeming here as ‘architecture’, it’s just too interesting (and poignant) a case not to include within the list. Known just as much for being the subject of a poem written by someone deemed by many as being history’s worst-ever poet – a man named William McGonagall for those interested – this disaster, which resulted in the deaths of around 75 people, stemmed first and foremost from poor architectural design.

In December 1879, the first Tay bridge (located between Burntisland and Dundee) collapsed as a train passed over it. Before its construction had even begun (though shoddy workmanship certainly accelerated the realisation of that fate). The inquiry which followed the disaster found that no allowance had been made for ‘windloading’, in other words, allowance for the kinds of stresses that high winds would place on the structure. Given that that particular part of Scotland gets blustery, to say the least, these really were criminal levels of negligence on the architect’s part. Incidentally, that very same architect happened to pass away only one year after the disaster. His reputation, understandably, was ruined by the disaster.

The Millennium Dome – England

Now, this one will probably cause some consternation amongst readers, because to many, it’s now seen as beloved – although it’s taken an awfully long time to reach that point. Unsurprisingly constructed – given its inventive name – to beckon in the new millennium, this huge space, finished in 1999, was met with almost universal criticism when it was first opened. Overspend, construction issues and, what many people as underwhelming, bizarre exhibits, the dome has had a lot of flak thrown its way over the years.

The dome became a by-word for failure and there was even a bomb hoax! But is it really as bad as people take great pleasure in making it out to be? In terms of user experience, many people loved visiting the Millennium Experience, and with the Millennium Dome now housing what is arguably the world’s greatest live event space, in the form of The O2, its ‘legacy’, for want of a better word, is now more established. The Dome almost certainly isn’t as disastrous a failure as many claim, but it’s no fairy-tale success, either. The reality? It probably sits somewhere between the two.

20 Fenchurch Street (The Walkie Talkie) – England

Any building that has a habit of melting car parts has probably had some architectural design flaws overlooked. And although the reality of the topic was exaggerated for newsworthy effect, the point remains that a building… started to melt a car. That’s not great, is it? In 2013, a Jaguar-owner returned to his parked car to find that parts of the roof had melted.

The 37-storey skyscraper at 20 Fenchurch Street acts as a concave mirror. Light rays were focused and reflected onto the streets below with spot temperatures of a staggering 117 degrees centigrade, recorded. An awning has since been placed on the building’s southern side, preventing these hot-spots from wreaking any more car-related havoc. Ultimately, any building that gets re-nicknamed “fryscraper” needs addressing…

200 Clarendon (Formerly The ‘John Hancock’ Tower) – USA

This striking 240m skyscraper set in the middle of Boston, USA, wasn’t so much a failure from an aesthetic perspective; indeed, it even garnered extensive plaudits within the architectural community upon its initial completion – as it was more from a “windows falling onto passers-by below” kind of way… Panes of its blue, reflective glass used in the tower’s windows frequently crashed onto the pavement below anytime that winds picked up. This prompted a perimeter to be placed around the tower whenever forecasts were gusty. Thanks to the increasingly hodgepodge appearance of the tower (which became part glass and part plywood) it became known by Bostonians as “the world’s tallest plywood building”. Fortunately, nobody was ever hurt by these projectile panes, which have since been repaired.

An Honourable Mention – The Prince Of Wales

We couldn’t conclude this list without making some reference to the “monstrous carbuncle” Prince Charles made back in 1984. A speech in which he referenced modern architecture and, in particular, a proposed extension to the National Gallery. Speaking at RIBA’s 150th anniversary, the Prince took every opportunity to lambast modern architecture. Something he did at an event where he was supposed to be toasting modern architectural design! Honestly, talk about reading the room…

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