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7 Architectural Experiments that Failed Spectacularly

7 Architectural Experiments that Failed Spectacularly

13 March, 2017

By Isabella Baranyk

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Experimentation in architecture is what propels the discipline forward. In an ideal scenario, once a project gets as far as the planning stage, large amounts of careful research and collaboration between the architect, contractor, and client contribute to a smooth execution of an exploratory idea, and ultimately a successful end product.

But it’s not uncommon for even the most skilled architects to design work that has a misstep somewhere along the line, whether it has to do with shrinking budget, unforeseen contextual changes, lack of oversight, or anything in between. In some way, the projects here all fall into the second category of failed experiments, but some have also become potential models for revitalization of existing buildings, rather than (less sustainable) demolition and reconstruction.


20 Fenchurch Street, Rafael Viñoly (opened 2014): The building’s slightly curved glass facade reflected light in concentrated beams so strong that they melted cars and started fires. After wreaking its havoc on the city, 20 Fenchurch Street is now partially covered with sun shades to prevent light from reflecting off of the glass, but it is still being blamed for directing powerful gusts of wind downward towards street level.

Ponte City, Manfred Hermer (opened 1975): Designed as luxury living that refused to rent to any non-white patrons. The racist legacy it was founded on has not completely disappeared, with the more expensive upper units being most frequently occupied by white tenants.

Pruitt-Igoe, Minoru Yamasaki (opened 1954): A combination of political and economic factors resulted in a challenging construction budget for Yamasaki's design, and cheap construction methods soon revealed themselves in structural failings that ranged from inconvenient to dangerous.

KOMTAR Tower, Architects Team 3 (opened 1986): In the 1960s, a masterplan for George Town, Malaysia was developed to create a new urban center that it was hoped would revitalize the area. But revitalization didn’t happen: the construction process displaced entire neighborhoods of George Town residents, and preexisting local restaurants and shops were demolished to make room for the skyscraper.

The Farnsworth House, Mies Van der Rohe (completed 1951): The project came in significantly over budget, and Farnsworth refused to pay the difference for a home she described as "almost nothing." Mies sued for lack of payment, and Farnsworth sued back for fraud and deceit. Mies won the case, but the client was never satisfied with her home and sold it to collector Lord Peter Palumbo in 1975.

Sports City, Santiago Calatrava (began 2007): Just after completing his iconic Ciudad de las Ciencias in Valencia, Calatrava masterminded Rome’s Sports City: a collection of athletic facilities for the University of Rome Tor Vergata. The first building, a swimming stadium, was meant to host the 2009 World Swimming Championships, but rapidly increasing cost estimates caused the project to come to a halt before it was even close to completion. The stadium is estimated to have cost the public around €200 million.

Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities: The Garden City model was used all over the world throughout the 19th century, including the Americas and former British colonies around Asia. The model has been largely criticized for facilitating many of the problems Howard wanted to plan against: rather than self-sustained mini-cities, many garden cities have in practice become suburbs on the outskirts of larger, more industrial urban centers with long commuting distances.

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