The world is full of incredible engineering successes with most structures being built to near perfection by architects the world over. Like most other prestigious career fields, architects are considered some of the most well respected and highly regarded alongside those such as doctors and lawyers. Their reputation for being at the top of their field is due to their need to be near-perfect in their jobs with little room for error.
Any mistake for an architect could result in tragedy, both costly in money and in human life. It’s not unheard of for a bolt to be off by less than half an inch and resulting in an entire bridge collapsing or a measurement being off and a building being in jeopardy of coming down.
Mistakes like these, although seemingly tiny to the untrained eye can be catastrophic. It’s important for architects to strive to be perfect as the lives of many are in their hands. The unfortunate truth is mistakes happen in this field just like in any other. But when they take place in this realm, the tragedy can be tenfold because buildings, bridges and the like are used by thousands at a time. Here are 25 of the biggest architectural blunders in history.
24 Cloud Skyscraper, Seoul - Immediate backlash
South Korea’s largest city took on a project to spruce up Seoul’s skyline. Part of the multi-use complex which was set to cost several billion dollars included a twin tower design which has come to be known as the “Cloud Skyscraper”. It features two towers connected by a design that resembles a cloud.
This drew immediate criticism from the USA because of its resemblance to how the World Trade Center Twin Towers looked when engulfed in smoke before their collapse in 2001.
The design drew harsh backlash causing the architect to issue a public apology.
23 Aon Center, Chicago - Watch out below!
The third tallest building in Chicago is one of its most historical and popular, seen as a wonder when it opened to the public nearly half a century ago. Although it was initially seen as an architectural hit, it was also marred with some pretty serious issues that turned out to be costly.
The architect chose to coat the entire façade of the Aon Center in Italian Carrara marble which gave the building its beautiful and distinct exterior look. However, this didn’t account for the fact that this material is very thin which ultimately resulted in giant slabs of the marble detaching and crashing down into the neighboring building.
The entire building had to be immediately resurfaced with granite, a more suitable material, which ended up being an $80 million mistake.
22 I-35 Bridge, Minneapolis, USA - This one was lethal
In Wisconsin’s largest city, the bridge that spanned across the Mississippi River in Minneapolis connecting the I-35 freeway is considered one of the worst architectural failures in modern history.
The bridge which carried 140,000 daily commuters collapsed on August 1, 2007 taking the lives of 13 people and injuring another 145. The cause of the collapse was a flaw in the design, which had plating that was too thin along the rivets that gave way under the intense weight of so much vehicle traffic.
21 Leaning Tower of Pisa - We think you can guess this one
Although the Leaning Tower of Pisa is considered one of the modern wonders of the world that attracts millions of yearly viewers hoping to snap a photo with the leaning building, it’s actually a pretty flawed design.
The failure of the architecture is also the very reason for its immense popularity. The base of the tower, built on clay, has sagged the tower since its existence hundreds of years ago, making this one of the biggest accidents in engineering history, but the silver lining is the massive tourism it ended up attracting, ultimately turning this fail into a historic win.
20 Citigroup Center, New York - Why would you build it on stilts?
When the Citigroup Center building was built in New York City in 1970, there wasn’t any space so the architect decided to build over St. Peter’s Lutheran Church which occupied the site. In order to do so, the 915-foot tower was quite literally built on stilts to hang over the church.
From the offset, it’s pretty apparent to most people that this design seems really flawed, but developers pressed on with construction, ultimately building a skyscraper that was susceptible to toppling over at the first sign of a major storm or hurricane.
In fact, officials calculated the building would come down within the next 16 years of its construction. The city kept this fact hidden from the public taking on a massive project to correct the design, ultimately fixing Citigroup Center’s engineering without the residents of New York City ever finding out until years later after the fix was in.
19 South China Mall - One key forgotten factor
A billionaire in China envisioned a mall that would rival any other in the world, setting out to build one of the largest of all time. The size of the mall was impressive, a massive 7 million square feet, more than twice the size of the United States’ Mall of America.
It was ultimately a failure and although the scope of the South China Mall was unlike anything ever seen, the designers failed to factor in one of the essentials of building… location.
The mall was constructed in the middle of nowhere, nearly three hours from any major hub of people, leading to its demise, as it still sits mostly vacant, making this a costly mistake.
18 Brooklyn Bridge Park - Hot steel under a hot sun
The young Brooklyn Bridge Park is one of New York City’s most beloved parks since its creation not too long ago. It’s been a major hit with the local residents of Brooklyn, but it wasn’t always considered a success. When it was first constructed, a major oversight resulted in a backlash by parkgoers.
The architects didn’t entirely think through the actual use of the park when they built the playground out of steel which resulted in the equipment heating up to triple digits during the summer, putting the children in serious danger. Thankfully, corrections have been made since after an enormous number of complaints.
17 Lotus Riverside - foundations turned to mud
The great city of Shanghai in China constructed Lotus Riverside, a complex made up of eleven buildings, each of the thirteen stories tall, all for residential use. It was seen as a great success in a city with major housing needs.
Unfortunately, the architects didn’t do the best planning job as they began to build an underground garage near the complex, excavating the earth, which allowed water from the nearby river to seep in and turn the foundation of Lotus Riverside into mud, which caused the collapse of a tower.
The disaster was seen as a huge misstep in what was supposed to be a joyous achievement.
16 Vdara Hotel, Las Vegas - a solar magnifying glass
Las Vegas hotels are known for their lavish and luxurious amenities, so the Vdara Hotel on the Strip set its sight on going bigger than the other hotels in the area. The architects designed the hotel with a curvature, giving the hotel an incredibly distinct and unique appearance which guests loved.
The designers did not account for the effect this curve would have when the sun beamed down on the structure.
The curve collected the solar rays and bounced them straight down into the pool, putting patrons at risk. There were even instances of hair and plastic being singed from the scorching heat rays.
15 Kemper Arena, Kansas City - A leaking bucket of water
Kansas City’s premier stadium during the late 1970’s was Kemper Arena which was home to sports and other venues, winning the city’s residents over with its distinct look. Part of the unique design was the roof being suspended in the air by giant trusses which were designed to release water slowly so that the surrounding areas would not be flooded.
Unfortunately, this design along with the accumulation of water created an enormous pool of rain after a big storm in 1979. After some time, the roof began to sag and eventually collapsed inward, and resulting in a huge financial loss.
14 John Hancock Tower, Boston - Swaying in the wind
Boston joins our list with its infamous John Hancock Tower which was constructed in 1976. The building was plagued with many costly problems after its opening all due to poor planning by the architects in charge.
For starters, the building did not absorb the wind as most buildings should, causing it to sway dramatically. The windows of the building also posed a major danger as they began crashing to the floor below as they weren’t built to take the heating of the panels. After $5 million and time-consuming projects, the issues were eventually resolved.
13 CNA Center, Chicago - Collapsing windows and flying glass
Chicago makes another appearance on our list with its distinctly red CNA Center which represents one of the more expensive architectural mistakes in recent memory.
The building was constructed without accounting for the expansion of the building due to heating, ultimately resulting in windows crashing down to the floor beneath.
One incident resulted in a window fatally striking a person below. This ended in a settlement worth $18 million and the need to replace every single window within the 44 story tower and a monthly check on the safety of each panel.
12 Stata Center - A $300 Million mistake
One of the world’s most prestigious universities in the world, Massachusetts Institute of Technology commissioned architect Frank Gehry to design the Ray and Maria Stata Center because of his unique vision and creativity.
The building, when completed, had angles that left onlookers in awe and walls that seemed to be out of this world. Years after its opening, MIT had to sue the architect because the building was plagued with problems including drainage issues, failing walls, cracks throughout the foundation and more.
The $300 million structure ended up being seen as a unique feat, but a costly mistake, nonetheless.
11 Tacoma Narrows Bridge, Washington - Is it supposed to bend like that?
Sometimes the culprit of failing structures boils down to cutting costs. In order to save money, the creators of Washington’s Tacoma Narrows Bridge built it with girders that were not up to par. This ultimately led to the bridge, which was the third longest suspension bridge in the world at the time, to sway rather violently whenever wind speeds picked up.
Because the bridge was only built to sustain a certain amount of sway, it finally collapsed after sustaining winds that picked up too high. The reality is architects were fully aware of the issue, even naming it “Galloping Gertie” because of the sway. Amazingly, a local photographer captured the bridge's fall.
10 Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles - Effectively A laser light
Architect Frank Gehry makes our list again (previously with the Stata Center) with the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The structure’s exterior was built shiny to be an eye catcher which it certainly accomplished.
The problem is the material which causes such significant shine is also perfect for reflecting light which it certainly does when the sun beams down on it.
The light reflected acts as a laser to neighboring buildings, heating them up by up to fifteen degrees! Frank Gehry might have missed the mark again, but he will never be accused of not grabbing the public’s attention with his designs.
9 W.E.B Du Bois Library, Massachusetts - Forgot to account for the weight of 60,000 books
Another university in the state of Massachusetts makes our list with the W.E.B. Du Bois Library, considered the tallest library in the country at twenty-six stories high. When it opened it was seen as a crowning achievement in architecture, but quickly became a headache after only a few months when the brick started to chip.
After careful review, it was found that the building was constructed without accounting for the fact that it would be carrying 60,000 books. The immense weight caused the building to sag unexpectedly, resulting in major upkeep.
8 Dubai Aquarium - The fish are escaping!
One of the largest aquariums in the world, the Dubai Aquarium is located within the world’s largest mall. The aquarium holds 2.5 million gallons of water and holds nearly 35,000 total marine life, making this a true marvel. The attraction was an instant hit, selling tens of thousands of tickets within the first week of opening.
Unfortunately, within a short amount of time of opening, the aquarium’s glass cracked allowing water to rush out, putting the biggest mall in the world in danger, leading to a mass evacuation.
The crack was quickly repaired by a team of divers sent down to fix the glass.
7 Tampa Bay Devil Rays Tropicana Field - Interfering with the games
Major League Baseball’s Tropicana Field, home to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays isn’t considered an architectural disaster, but it certainly is a big accident for spectators paying to see the team play.
The designers constructed the stadium with walkways situated directly over the playing field, obstructing the game. With so much real estate in the air occupied by the catwalks, it’s a common occurrence for baseballs to hit them, causing the game to be interrupted or even outcomes to be affected.
6 Millennium Dome, London - A $40 million waste
Another sporting arena joins the list, only this time from the other side of the world in London. The Millennium Dome was constructed around the turn of the millennium, aptly named. The vision for the dome was an all-encompassing state of the art sports facility which cost the city over one billion dollars.
Although the structure was not built incorrectly, it was simply considered quite a massive failure because of its inability to attract the crowds it was intended to attract. With initial estimates at 12 million visitors in the first year, it only drew half of that due to the negative feedback it received because of its unappealing look.
The money spent to close and re-open the dome was exorbitant at over $40 million.
5 Buckingham Palace, London - sewage flooding the rooms
London's most distinguished locale, Buckingham Palace has long been considered the crème de la crème of the country. The palace features several hundred rooms which is simply astounding in its own right.
When something so magnificent is created, it’s rare that there are many issues with it, but Buckingham is not immune to pitfalls.
In its infancy stages during the early 1800’s the palace’s kitchens were plagued with issues including sewage flooding the rooms as well as poor ventilation. It took several teams to repair the extensive issues.