Biggest Blunders in Architecture and Design History


When it comes to buildings and other structures, the first thing that most of us recognize is the design and how they are built. There are many wonderfully designed and built structures all over the world that are very popular such as the Taj Mahal in India, The Gherkin in London, and the Chrysler Building in New York. With a focus on sustainability and collaboration, they design buildings that inspire and serve their communities.

But if there are these beautiful buildings, there are also many failed structures that were recorded in history.

We are going to share with you several architectural and design failures that led to learning experiences. Here are the biggest blunders in architecture and design history.

1. The Tower of Pisa

The leaning Tower of Pisa is a famous structure in Italy. It was constructed in 1173 with the height of 60 meters. What caused it to lean was the soggy land where it was built on. To prevent it from collapsing, the tower required reinforcing. The lesson learned in this is that a solid foundation is vital in making and building structures.

2. Lighthouse of Alexandria

The Lighthouse of Alexandria or also called Pharos of Alexandria was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. However, an earthquake destroyed it in 1303. This structure had an extraordinary architecture and it also has an ability to withstand the ocean and wars.

Well, what architects and designers have to learn from the destruction of this lighthouse is that some buildings don’t last forever. That’s why it’s important to improve certain structures using evolving technology to help preserve them.

3. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge opened in 1938, however it sprung so wildly. In fact, the locals called the bridge the “Galloping Gertie”. In 1940, it collapsed due to a windstorm and it had created the largest man-made reefs and also the most dramatic failures in history when it comes to bridge engineering. With this failure, architects and engineers should always take into account environmental factors that can affect the structures they will build such as wind and weather.

4. Hyatt Regency Walkway Collapse

The Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City was built in 1979 and is designed with many hanging walkways. In 1981, these walkways have been packed of people watching a dance contest, and it unfortunately collapsed which killed more than a hundred people. It became the deadliest structural collapse in American history during that time. It was because of a flaw in the drawings where the intended weight on a small nut holding the walkway’s steel frame was put twice. Since this incident, it had become a part of every intro to structural engineering.

5. The Stata Center

The Stata Center opened on March 16, 2004 on the site of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s former Building 20. However, it was only open for three years. It’s because Frank Gehry, the designer, and his contractor were sued for “deficient design services and drawings”. This caused leaks to spring, mold to grow, masonry to crack, and drainage to back up. There were even falling ice and debris that blocked emergency exits.

6. Vdara Hotel and Spa

Vdara Hotel and Spa is located within the City Center complex on the Las Vegas Strip. It features a unique curved glass structure that looks beautiful. However, it collected solar rays and beamed them to the hotel’s swimming pool area, causing the raise in temperatures at the pool, burning away human hair and melting plastic. The solution to this issue is of course, to build a shade.

7. Lotus Riverside Apartment

Lotus Riverside is a 13-story residential apartment building in Shanghai. Unfortunately, the Block 7 of the apartment collapsed in 2009, killing one person. It was due to the excavation of an underground garage beneath the building. Since dirt was removed from underneath and dumped into a landfill near a creek, the riverbank collapsed from the weight and caused the water to seep into the ground, turning the building’s foundation into mud.

The lesson learned from this failure is to always check the foundation as well as other important components of the structure during renovations. As architects and engineers, the top priority should always be public safety.

8. The Fidenae Amphitheater

The Fidenae Amphitheater was apparently a cheaply built wooden amphitheater which was constructed by Atilius. In 27 AD, it collapsed, resulting to the worst stadium disaster in history where 20,000 to 50,000 people died. It collapsed due to the volume of people who were watching gladiator fights. The lesson learned from this incident is to always take into consideration the weight that the structure will hold and also to build structures solidly.

9. St. Francis Dam

The St. Francis Dam was built in 1924 to create a large regulating and storage reservoir for Los Angeles, California. However, in 1928, it collapsed because of defective foundations resulting to flooding and to the death of 600 people. With this incident, engineers and architects should remember to inspect structures such as dams and bridges to ensure public safety.

10. John Hancock Tower

This is a 60-storey skyscraper located in Boston. It was designed by I.M. Pei and Partners architectural firm and was unveiled in 1976. It has a striking, minimalist design, however, it was also famously plagued with problems. Because of the repeated thermal stress to the panels on the building, its windows were falling out to the pavement hundreds of feet below. Due to this issue, there were 10,000 windows replaced for 5 million dollars.

Aside from the issue with its windows, it also had a problem with absorbing strong winds, making the building sway too much. Because of this, occupants on the higher floors experienced motion sickness. The lesson learned from this building is that little factors have big implications on buildings especially for skyscrapers.

These are the biggest blunders in architecture and design history. It is indeed important for architects and designers to carefully look into details, even the small ones because everything will matter when the structure is built. And most importantly, everyone’s safety should be the number one priority.

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