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Guest Blog: Famous Design Flaws in Commercial Property in London25th October 2013

Big office blocks divide opinion - Design flaws in commercial property in London

The thing with big office blocks is that they divide opinion like nothing else. Big commercial buildings can often be seen from miles around, and there are many like that in London alone. The most famous is of course the Shard, and I bet you know people who love it, and I bet you know people who hate it. That’s the way the world works.

There are plenty of others, too. There’s the Strata in Elephant & Castle, affectionately known as the Philishave because it looks like a razor. There’s the Gherkin, the Heron Tower, the Cheesegrater and more.

But while opinion will always be divided about whether these buildings actually look any good – something which will always be subjective anyway – there are some things that can’t be questioned, and that’s because in one way or another they’re flawed in the way they were designed.

Look at the Walkie Talkie on Fenchurch Street. So named because of the building’s shape, of course – but now the public have given the building a new nickname - with Walkie Scorchie. The design of the Walkie ‘Scorchie’ Talkie has made headlines during the last couple of weeks for the wrong reasons. A poor chap parked his Jaguar under the building and came back to find it had melted. Because of the building’s design, the sun reflects off it so intensely that crisp packets have apparently melted in its light and journalists have even managed to fry an egg. 

Other high profile buildings have also been criticised. This time last year London was basking in the glory of having played host to a hugely successful Olympic games, but many of the buildings that housed the different events received criticism. Not least, the Velodrome, which saw Team GB’s cyclists race to glory, received press coverage of the wrong kind when it was reported that leaks had been discovered in the building’s roof – not before the Olympics had started, but just before Team GB were about to race in (and win) the Omnium event. Bizarrely, the designers came out and said the leaks were not because of a flaw in the Velodrome’s design. Despite concerns that water drops were spotted on the ground in several parts of the venue – raising concerns that the water could affect the cycling.

While the Walkie Talkie is the highest profile commercial property to have its design exposed, other buildings have also been flawed. Such as the Millennium Bridge or ‘wobbly bridge’, which was built over the River Thames to celebrate the millennium. It was the first pedestrian bridge to be built across the Thames in Central London for over 100 years. The bridge began to sway under the feet of the people crossing it, engineers concluding the cause to be a mixture of synchronised footsteps and the flexible structure of the bridge. The bridge reopened two years later.

In addition, the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountains, which were installed in Hyde Park in 2004, were blighted with problems. The public were originally told they’d cost £3m to install, but even before the problems (leaks, unsurprisingly) they came in way over budget. After repairs, the public had spent a huge £7m on them and there will be increasing maintenance costs in the future, this is mostly due to unforeseen design errors.

However, none of those led to people’s cars melting, or setting doormats on fire. So clearly the Walkie Scorchie is the building to have caused most damage because of a design flaw, so far. While a long term solution is sought after, it seems The City of London will be erecting temporary scaffolding to screen the worst affected areas of the street. It’s certainly a warning to other designers of London commercial property.

About the author

Joe Williams of Pearl & Coutts, commercial property specialistsJoe Williams works for Pearl & Coutts, commercial property specialists based in London who supply good quality offices and shops (that won't melt your car) throughout the capital and the rest of the UK. 

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