Walkie Talkie blamed for powerful downdraught on London streets

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Rafael Viñoly's Walkie Talkie skyscraper in London has once again become a subject of controversy, following reports that its curved facade is channelling gusts of wind strong enough to knock people over.

Two years after being blamed for reflecting a beam of light intense enough to melt cars, the 20 Fenchurch Street tower has been accused of creating a wind tunnel, thanks to the downdraught from its 36 storeys.

Walkie Talkie skyscraper by Rafael Vinoly blamed for powerful down-draught on London streets

An employee at the nearby Molton Brown cosmetics store told The Times: "It has only really been windy since the Walkie Talkie has been here. When they were building it and there were the building works going on, it was fine. But ever since they've completed it, the wind really picked up."

The manager of a local fast-food restaurant told The Telegraph that the wind had almost caused a food trolley to be blown away, while a local sales assistant said to BBC News that she "almost got blown over walking past the building".

Following the string of complaints about the Walkie Talkie and other skyscrapers, The City of London Corporation is now demanding independent assessment of the wind reports submitted at the planning stage, at property developers' expense.



"The wind outcome at street level experienced post-construction on a number of projects differs somewhat to the conditions we were expecting from the one outlined in the planning application wind assessments," said head of design Gwyn Richards.

"This is why we are asking for an independent verification of the wind studies on a number of new schemes to ensure as rigorous and resilient an approach as possible."

Walkie Talkie skyscraper by Rafael Vinoly blamed for powerful down-draught on London streets
In 2013 the Walkie Talkie skyscraper was reported to be reflecting a beam of light intense enough to melt cars

The issue, known as the "downdraught effect", occurs when wind hits a building and is forced downwards. It is most forceful when the wall faces the prevailing wind, which in Britain is from the south west.

One of the most serious incidents connected with the effect was in 2011, when a man was crushed to death near the 112-metre-tall Bridgewater Place skyscraper in Leeds, after strong winds caused a lorry to overturn.

The Fenchurch Street skyscraper, nicknamed the Walkie Talkie due to its distinctive profile, is the first London building by New York-based Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly.

It was nicknamed the Walkie Scorchie in 2013, after its facade was reportedly focusing a "death ray" onto nearby streets. Since then protective fins have been added to the building's facade in a bid to solve the problem.

Images of the Walkie Talkie are courtesy of Shutterstock.

  • Put wind turbines in the spaces above the sidewalks.

  • DL1119

    Windie talkie.

    • Bowen Ng

      Windie Scorchie.

  • Guest

    It also thoroughly dominates the City skyline viewed from the South Bank and jars every aesthetic fibre in my body.

  • tom lever

    When will starchitects give up on this hopeless phase of Neo-Futurism? All it does is create pointless problems. Can we at least have Van der Rohe back?

    • dinos

      Dear world, let’s make everything look like a standard box and fix regulations to sharp corners and vanish any inconsistencies.

      PS, let’s blame anything that looks irregular in an already vandalised London skyline made up of sharp phallic silhouettes.

      Faithfully,

      Your Capitalist slave.

      • tom lever

        Something like an arch or a sloped roof has a meaningful purpose, both visually and practically. Making zany, arbitrary shapes with glass and steel is unhelpful, wasteful, and unlikely to make any contribution to the day-to-day life of anyone.

        • Rafael

          Zany architecture, well said.

      • WaxWing

        Do you like the building you see there?

        • dinos

          No, but I just don’t see the justice and why they pick on this particular type, that’s all.

  • Jos

    It’s a good thing Viñoly didn’t win the World Trade Centre master plan competition. That would have been a terrible place for his signature death rays and wind generators, not to mention the fat over-ripe aesthetic. Far from slender and reaching skyward.

    I’d love to see a comparative shadow analysis from this and other London towers. It has to be one of the most inconsiderate (to the city and the people) buildings of the last decade.

  • tschliemann%ennead.com

    It couldn’t be easier to do a wind-tunnel test. We are obligated to do it here. Not costly, and it is the law here, and a personal obligation to assure that all kinds of bad things don’t happen with our design. Do they not require it in England?

    • JayCee

      Normally desktop-based computational fluid dynamic (CFD) simulations are used / required in the UK. Towers generally don’t get tall enough to warrant actual physical wind-tunnel testing.

      • Robert Murphy

        Wind tunnel tests or CFD are required for buildings of this scale in the UK. A “desk top study” (i.e. err, looks sort of OK) is fine for much shorter buildings. Tschliemann, where are you based?

  • Michal

    So now we have to be resilient, even to our own buildings. Great.

  • bilby

    Just demolish it.

  • Trent

    Please let this be the final nail in the coffin for this despicable building. Tear the it down!

  • Chris MacDonald

    I loathe this building.

  • Shaun

    It’s f*cking minging.

  • Shaun

    The Gherkin and the Cheesegrater are going to age so well. The Walkie Talkie… I squirm thinking how outdated it will look in say, 20-30 years.

  • architHECKS

    Comprehensive wind-tunnel tests should be a compulsory part of the planning applications for all tall buildings in their properly scaled environment.

    • Martyn Hogg

      It would certainly be interesting to see if anyone can recreate the downdraft in either a wind tunnel or CFD simulation. That is the real question here… is it or should it have been easy to predict?

      Perhaps no amount of testing or simulation could have predicted this or the “death rays” and they are just bad luck. It’s unfair to criticise the architects unless someone can show that normal testing or simulation practice could have foreseen the problems. I quite like the look of this building.

  • John McGrath

    Don’t you hate it when you try to build a skyscraper but accidentally build a massive weapon?

    • alex

      A city full of peasants, hipster architecture is the future!

  • BeggarBoy

    Ah, the quality of life improvements for those near these idiot buildings!

  • Glen Crawforth

    Viñoly: “I’m afraid the deflector shields will be quite operational when your friends arrive”.

  • George W

    Somebody should be held accountable for this monstrosity. It has consumed public space and offered the absolute minimum from its garden. It’s a catastrophically bad piece of architecture that neither works for its occupants or the city. Furthermore, it’s a hazard to people.

    This design made it past planning authorities who act on the behalf of the public. It is about time the authorities, planners and even the architect himself faced up to this incompetent design in front of a public enquiry. How did it get permission? What were the conditions? Have they been met? It’s time for us, the public, to got some genuine answers.

    • Londoner

      Well said, sir. I agree wholeheartedly.

    • The Czech

      You clearly do not work locally or have a clue as to what you are talking about. Not only is it the most successful city tower built on a spec basis, the public space at the top of the building is totally unsurpassed.

      At the southern plaza, although it is sometimes windy, what an improvement to the public realm with the living wall and new cafe. And what a contrast to the cost of going up the Shard and the poor take up of office space there after three years…

      • Andy Martin

        To the bouncing cheque, who gives a flying fart at the space at the top of the building. Your opinions are that of a shill for this and other shite buildings that Londoner’s have to endure. Shame on you!

  • Andreas Janke

    Walkie Scorchie has missed some opportunities and 21st Century requirements. It powerfully collects sun energy and effectively channels wind. It could have been a perfect power plant…

  • KC

    London used have one of the best skylines with spires before The Great Fire, but unfortunately now it is spoilt by toy-shaped buildings thanks to the architects’ egos.

    Rafael Vinoly continues to destruct London with
    his assault on our beloved Battersea Power Station by masterplanning a high-density development, which cramps around the heritage building and completely overshadows it.

  • Arjay Cee

    This laser-blasting, gale-breathing building shows us menacing AI isn’t all we have to fear stalking us into the future.

    Architecture is right behind. The Walkie Talkie looks like it wants to scale the nearest ape and knock airplanes out of the sky.

  • Phillip Dunford

    This is the architectural equivalent of a building farting.

  • J@

    Demolish it?

  • Thomas Wensing

    The whole idea to have a skyscraper which is lopsided was ill-conceived from the start. I still don’t really understand the planning logic that the Cheesegrater had to be tapered because of viewing corridors and the Walkie Talkie close to it did not.

    I think London needs a vision with respect to the development of its skyline and legislation managing concentration of high-rise development, rather than the haphazard case-by-case situation leading to inappropriate developments like this tower or that monstrosity at Elephant and Castle. Zoning envelopes could be a start.

  • Kay

    I used to work on Fenchurch street. For some weird reason it was always a windy street. The draft always moves westwards from Aldgate and is at the best of days breezy. Not that the Walkie Talkie is making things any better…

  • mattia sanlorenzo

    It is all part of a plan: death ray + downdraught effect = London burning.

  • marmite

    The mistakes are allowed to be made because these architects are allowed to do what they like now in London, largely because Boris wants it to resemble Dubai.

    The planners are turning a blind eye and won’t take their heads out of the sand until London is destroyed by these ugly, ego-led buildings. Sorry to sound like PC, but it’s true.

  • bluesshakeout

    Let’s hope this is another nail in the coffin of this truly disgusting building. I’m no anti-capitalist but this is the epitome of stealing public good (the airspace and skyline) for private profit. You couldn’t make it up.

    • MM

      What coffin? The building is alive and well. I wish it were going to get buried, but for the time being it’s here to stay!

  • brandesignstrategy

    Nice looking building. So tired of the same old…

  • Einar hagem

    The Walkie Talkie building is polluting London city with wind and heat. And aesthetically it is polluting the architecture of London so much that, for me, the city is starting to become an unattractive destination.

    Being such a shouting selfish building, it is beyond my understanding how this design could ever get a planning permission. Please be more careful next time! – Einar Hagem, architect, Oslo, Norway.

  • Mr J

    Looks like an oversized stick of celery.

  • DS

    I think we should praise this architect. He meant to create an office tower and has created a beacon of renewable energy. I mean a super solar collector AND wind turbine that also happens to be an office tower. What a wonderfully misplaced experiment.