Buildings that went wrong and what we can learn from them

Its been said that someone who never made a mistake never made anything. And that goes as much for designers even famous ones as it does for anyone else. If you learn from your mistakes failure can be a foundation for success. Of course its better, when you can, to learn from the mistakes of others, and as designers ourselves you can be sure weve taken the following object lessons to heart.


Leaning Tower of Pisa

Uniquely amongst architectural failures the Leaning Tower of Pisa is a success because it is a failure! Its wonky design makes it one of worlds best known landmarks and tourist destinations. Its famous tilt is the result of bad foundations, with ground too soft on one side to support its weight. It had been inching towards collapse since the 12th century, but was stabilised by a 20th century rescue project. Health and Safety doesnt appear to be an issue even today: the guard rails on the top viewing platform only extend half way round and guess which side theyre on? Yep, the side that tilts up!


Secret Intelligence Service Building


The SIS building is Londons spook central, HQ of M15 and M16 and the Circus of

Le Carres George Smiley. The building is structurally sound and can claim to be both impressive and distinctive some have compared it to a Mayan temple. But be that as it may, isnt it a bit ostentatious and attention seeking for a secret organisation? Its like the Masons holding an open evening or the Magic Circle giving show and tell demonstrations! An underground bunker would be more fit-for-purpose in architectural terms. But maybe its a clever double bluff?


Walkie Talkie Building


The London skyline is peppered with landmark buildings such as the Gherkin, the Cheesegrater and the Shard that are hailed as architectural triumphs or disasters depending on your point of view. Amongst these is the Walkie Talkie, so called because it looks like one. In 2015 it was awarded the Carbuncle Cup for the worst new building in the UK in the previous six months. But Health and Safety is also an issue here. The curved mirrored frontage of the building focuses sunlight on to local streets, damaging parked vehicles and scalding passersby. One journalist even highlighted the problem by frying eggs on the street!


Sydney Opera House


An unlikely candidate for a gallery of architectural failures you might think, the Sydney Opera Houses sail-like design is a subject of national pride and international acclaim. Surprisingly for a structure designed as a concert venue, a major problem turned out to be its acoustics! It was decided that the small sail part of the complex would be the opera house and the large sail part would be the concert hall. Unfortunately the concert hall was too big to fill for most events and the opera house too small for musicians to hear themselves. A multi-million dollar refit was undertaken an expense that fitness-for-purpose planning could have prevented.


Millennium Dome


The problem with Londons Millennium Dome was not so much that it was unfit for purpose than that it didnt have a purpose at all other than to mark the Millennium and be a vanity project for New Labour. It turned out to be little more than a big top for a circus with an acrobatic cast of 160. It cost nearly 800 million, attracted only half of the anticipated 12 million visitors in the first year and closed shortly afterwards. A stadium for Charlton Athletic and a high-tech business park were amongst the after uses considered for the dome before it was finally redeveloped as the O2 Arena in 2007 with a concert by the rock band Bon Jovi.


Houses of Parliament


The Houses of Parliament are not so much an architectural mistake as a disaster waiting to happen. The original Palace of Westminster, home of the Kings of England, was destroyed by fire in 1512. It was replaced by the Old Palace, which was destroyed by fire in 1834. The existing New Palace built in the Gothic Revival style by Charles Berry is now once again considered a serious fire risk and plans are afoot for both houses to vacate the building for a major refurbishment expected to take six years and cost 3.5 billion. Which goes to show that the design team must keep abreast of advancing technology and increasingly stringent building standards.