Published on September 4th, 2013 | by James Ayre


Skyscraper Under Construction In London Unintentionally Doubles As Parabolic Concentrator, Melts Parked Jaguar XJ

September 4th, 2013 by  

You drive to a business meeting, you park your car, you go to the meeting, you come back to your car, you’re ready to leave, but you can’t… because it turns out that your car’s been melted by the sunlight concentrated by and reflected off of the curved surface of the building across the street. Just a typical day in the life of the average Londoner, no doubt.

Wait… What?

Well, it seems that the architect behind the new “Walkie Talkie” being constructed in downtown London has unintentionally created a giant parabolic concentrator in the heart of the famous city — a skyscraper with the power to melt luxury cars. 🙂

Seriously, though, besides the obvious humor in all of this, you’ve got to admit that this is a good example of just how powerful ordinary sunlight can be when properly harnessed. Hint hint. Kind of makes you want to go solar, doesn’t it?

Image Credit: Screen Capture

Image Credit: Screen Capture from CNN video

CNN has more:

It may sound like science fiction, but it was no joke for Jaguar XJ owner Martin Lindsay, who parked his pricey ride near the under-construction building, officially called 20 Fenchurch Street, but known by many Londoners as the “Walkie Talkie” for its distinctive shape.

When he returned to the car, he found some panels warped beyond repair by the beam of light reflected down from the curved side of the landmark glass tower. The developers of the 37-floor building, Canary Wharf and Land Securities, have said they’ll pay for the high-spec vehicle to be fixed.

The City AM newspaper said light reflected from the building had also previously damaged a van parked on the same street, Eastcheap. A joint statement from Land Securities and Canary Wharf said they were taking the issue of light reflecting from the building seriously.

“Canary Wharf Construction and Land Securities have been very good and agreed to pay for the damage, and accept that there is an issue which they will resolve,” Lindsay told CNN. “I am in construction and sometimes things go wrong which nobody would have envisaged, and this is one of them.”

“The phenomenon is caused by the current elevation of the sun in the sky. It currently lasts for approximately 2 hours per day, with initial modeling suggesting that it will be present for approximately 2-3 weeks,” a joint statement from Land Securities and Canary Wharf said.

The “Walkie Talkie building” in question — more formally known as 20 Fenchurch Street — was designed by architect Rafael Viñoly. It will be home to around 33,000 square meters of glass…. No surprise that the relatively eco-friendly death-ray is so powerful.

The unintentional creation of parabolic concentrators by architects who are simply trying to add some spice to their buildings is nothing new — the Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas is well known for creating a similar effect. It was reported back in 2010 that the effect was so pronounced one day that it actually “scorched the hair of a visitor using the hotel’s pool, as well as melting a hole in a plastic bag he had by his sun lounger.”

It’s too bad that no one has yet developed a means of harnessing such impressive energy….

You can see pictures of the damage from the Walkie Talkie building here.

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • anderlan

    Building in front probably wonders why their AC condensers on the roof suddenly dropped to 10% efficiency.

  • Omega Centauri

    No one could have predicted it???? Any fool who had optics should have considered the possibility. A little bit of computer ray tracing could verify the result.

    But, I guess architects aren’t taught those things in school. More important to learn styling.

  • It should be used to act like a solar heat power plant. Intentionally build in a ‘target to gather the solar heat and put it to a useful purpose! Generate electricity and then use it for heating hot water.


    • anderlan

      Good, but the focus no doubt moves throughout the day/year.

    • Booga

      I agree, and the fact that the Sun’s movement across the face of the building should not be any hindrance at all to capture this energy. A synchronized collector dish can be constructed across from the building. This could be a new way to bring clean energy sources into the cities. Image how much power it could produce?

  • anderlan

    Architects, you overpaid bastards, high and mighty kings thinking themselves superior to mere engineers or scientists, how do you not anticipate this precise shit happening? How can we as a society spend tens of millions on an edifice that is going to last a century and not put enough forethought into it?

    • Ivor O’Connor

      Because they are “artists” and have not read the science fiction stories where buildings are turned into killing machines by bouncing off sunlight from the windows. Some of which I have read decades ago. Ask one of these architects to describe the colors of a sunset and how they affect modern society and they can wax poetically until you walk away.

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