The Story of Walkie Scorchie

A few months ago I found out about this story, which once again proves that real life is much stranger than fiction:


The building at 20 Fenchurch Street in London has a unique shape. It is wider at the top than at the bottom, making it look as if it is bursting up and out of the skyline. Because of this, it has been nicknamed the “Walkie Talkie” building.

It has, however, earned a few more unfortunate nicknames, due to the fact that for about two hours a day, the concave surface of the building focuses sunlight onto the ground below, creating spot temperatures of up to 240 F. This is hot enough to fry eggs, crack pavement, and melt the hood ornament on one man’s Jaguar. Residents, with their trademark British humor, have taken to calling the building “Walkie Scorchie” or the Fryscraper.

The mistake can be traced back to the developers running out of money to complete construction during the Great Recession in 2009. The original design included horizontal louvers to cut glare, but these were removed to save money and construction time.

Instead, developers have had to install a permanent sunshade after the fact. Architect Rafael Viñoly admitted that “we made a lot of mistakes” in the construction of the building, and complained that this wouldn’t have been a problem if not for climate change. Apparently when he first arrived in London, the city didn’t have as many sunny days, and the Fryscraper effect was a non-issue.

Interestingly enough, this is a recurring problem for Viñoly. He also designed the Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas, which has a similar design and creates a hot zone on the pool deck that the management have termed a “solar convergence” but the staff prefer to call the Death Ray – appropriate, since it has singed hair and melted through plastic cups. Gordon Absher, spokesman for the resort company, stated, “A new building’s first season of operation always uncovers glitches”. Temporary solutions such as larger, thicker umbrellas and more foliage will not suffice because the hot spot shifts throughout the day and the year. Absher complained, “This is quite literally an astronomical challenge. We are dealing with a moving target.”


Any stories you know from real life that would never have come up in fiction? A death ray from a building is certainly up there!


– H


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