25 Extremely Embarrassing Architectural Failures

Welcome to our list of 25 incredible architectural failures throughout history. The following collection of architectural failures is an eclectic mix. They range from the most poorly designed, ugly or downright dangerous architectural projects throughout history. Our list is far from exhaustive and not intended to be definitive. They are also in no particular order. Enjoy!

1. The Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pisa

We’ll kick off our list of architectural failures with probably the most famous one. The Tower of Pisa, if you don’t already know, is a freestanding bell tower associated with the Cathedral of Pisa. Famous for its wonky appearance, it is a favorite destination for tourists as well as a “must do” funny selfie opportunity. Situated behind the cathedral it is the third oldest structure in the City’s Cathedral square.

During construction, the tower started to tilt. A combination of inadequate foundations and unsuitable grounds ultimately led to the Tower’s unique form. The tilt became progressively worse during construction and the builders attempted to correct the problem. The more observant amongst you will have noticed it’s actually curved! A bit like a stone banana! But this wasn’t enough. Over the following centuries, The Tower has continued to sink at around 1mm a year. Heavy weights were added to one side of the Tower in later 1990’s to try to save the building.

2. Tacoma Narrows Bridge, Washington

This example of architectural failures is one of the more catastrophic on our list. When it opened in 1940 the Tacoma Narrows Bridge was the third longest suspension bridge in the world! It later closed four months later when it spectacularly collapsed! To try to keep costs down cheap girders were chosen. This decision ultimately doomed the bridge. The bridge even used to sway during construction, earning it the nickname “Galloping Gertie”. The problem was also very noticeable by members of the public when crossing the bridge and they noted its similarity to a bucking bronco! It finally collapsed on the 7th of November, 1940 under the stress of 64 kilometers per hour winds!

You’ve probably seen the now infamous footage, but here it is or your pleasure!

3. Kemper Arena, Kansas

The Kemper Arena is an indoor stadium in Kansas City that opened its doors in 1976. One notable feature of the building was its trussed roof. In June of 1979, a heavy storm bombarded the city and the stadium’s roof couldn’t take the strain. Thankfully the stadium was vacant at the time and no one was injured! The roof had been designed to release rainwater slowly to stop inundating the nearby West Bottoms area.

This unfortunate design allowed rainwater to collect and pool on the roof. It sagged, adding extra capacity for rainwater to collect until it finally failed. The roof was also suspended from hangers and the bolts had been miscalculated. Once one failed a chain reaction ensued and the whole thing came tumbling down!

[Image Source: Garrett Fuller via Wikimedia Commons]

4. Aon Center, Chicago

This impressive tower is Chicago’s third tallest building and opened in 1973. It was originally called the Standard Oil Building. On completion, the tower was a feast for the eyes. The building’s designers chose to clad the entire external facade in Italian Carrara marble. And hey, why not? This form of marble is much thinner than regular cladding materials and in 1974 one slab detached. This rogue piece crashed onto the roof of the neighboring Prudential Centre. Not ideal to say the least. Unsurprisingly, an investigation noted that marble was completely unsuitable. It was cracking and bowing all over the place! Bravo!

$80 million dollars later the entire outside was recladded in granite!

5. Secret Intelligence Service Building, London

Unlike other entries on our list of architectural failures, this one isn’t necessarily structurally unsound! The SIS building is the home of MI5 and MI6 and where James Bond “goes to the office”. It became the headquarters of the SIS in 1994. Some have noted its resemblance to a Mayan Temple. Yeah, we can see that.

Given the building’s intended use, shouldn’t it be a bit more, well secret? Perhaps the architects believed in the principle of “hiding in plain site”? Yeah, that must be it!

6. The Lotus Riverside Complex, Shanghai

In June of 2009 one the buildings at the Lotus Riverside complex, Shanghai collapsed, killing one worker. Rushed and low-quality construction techniques ultimately doomed the project. All 15 storeys of the apartment block, one of 11 in the complex, was almost complete when it fell. The collapse cost not only a workers life but the dreams of hopeful families and investors. Half of the units had already been sold at around $60,000 a piece! Understandably, many of the prospective tenants demanded a refund!

As you’d expect the government was less than impressed. Nine officials were arrested and tried under claims of “causing serious accidents”. Six officials were later found guilty.

7. CNA Center, Chicago

Opened in 1972, the CNA Center is a high-rise, 44 storey, building in Chicago. The building was designed by Graham Anderson, Probst & White and painted a vibrant red. You can’t really miss it! In 1999, a large piece of window came loose and plummeted from the 29th floor. Sadly the window caused a single fatality! An investigation found that thermal expansion was the cause. This triggered an $18 million dollar settlement and a later refurbishment of all the building’s windows! The windows are still monitored monthly to this day!

On a brighter note, the CNA Center is also famous for its lighting displays, ranging from supporting sports teams to celebrating national holidays. This is achieved using a combination of lights, window blinds, and even foam board cutouts!

[Image Source: Antoine Taveneaux via Wikimedia Commons]

8. Ray and Maria Stata Center, MIT

Designed by award winning Architect Frank Gehry, The Ray and Maria Stata Centre was opened in 2004. It houses MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Labs, Department of Linguistics and Philosophy and the Laboratory of Information and Decision Systems. On completion, it was celebrated for its bold angular design that was said to challenge the laws of Physics.

In 2007 MIT filed a lawsuit for negligence against Gehry after design flaws and major structural problems were identified. Issues with drainage caused walls to crack, massive icicles hung precariously during winter months and even mold grew on the exterior walls. Repairs and alteration work cost the school more than $1.5 million dollars! The construction company, Skanska USA Building, claimed they had warned the architect of the design issues on numerous occasions. Apparently, this fell on deaf ears and they “were told to proceed with the original designs”. The company’s spokesman went on to say “It was difficult to make the original design work.”

9. Pier one Playground, Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York

Playgrounds are great fun for children and parents alike and you’d think their design was a relatively simple undertaking. Not so at Pier One. The designers decided to build climbing structures purely out of steel. As most parents know, you test things like swing seats to make sure they aren’t too hot. This principle obviously eluded the design team. The climbing frames, well domes, often became too hot to touch with one parent measuring the temperature at 127 degrees! That’s hot enough to fry an egg! The New York Post reported in 2010 that the structures would be replaced with more suitable alternatives.


[Image Source: BrooklynHeightsBlog]

10. Olympic Stadia, Greece

When the Olympics came home to Greece in 2004, dozens of stadia were built to house various events. These ranged from baseball, kayaking to even table tennis, field hockey, and judo! The vast majority of these are now vacant and remain unused to this day. They are now secured with padlocked fences and patrolled regularly by security. The Olympics cost Athens around $11 billion dollars to host. That’s more than double the country’s budget! It has been speculated that this massive investment in now defunct infrastructure was in part responsible or Greece’s economic woes!

11. Walkie Talkie Centre, London

The Walkie Talkie Centre is an award winning office block in the center of London. Its concave design has been hailed as an architectural triumph but it also leads to some serious health and safety issues. Not long after its completion complaints began to roll in regarding its focusing of sunlight onto local streets. One notable instance even blamed the design of the building for damaging parked cars and generally make pedestrians pretty uncomfortable.

It can get so hot that some are even able to cook eggs on the street! Incredible!

12. Vdara Hotel & Spa, Las Vegas

The Hotel and Spa opened in 2009 and features a fairly unique curved structure. Nothing untoward there, until you go for a swim! The buildings’ design was such that it was acting as a giant solar collector focussing the power of the sun directly into the swimming pool area. Guests immediately began to complain that they were regularly getting “burnt”. One guest, in particular, Bill Pintas, claimed that the hotel’s design had burned his hair and melted a plastic bag he had with him!

13. Mets Citi Field, New York

Best described by the New York Post, they said of the building “The Mets always look stunning in April and start crumbling by September, so fans say it’s only fitting their new stadium is imploding on cue”. This architectural failure was intended to replace the New York Mets Shea Stadium and construction began in 2009. Eight hundred and fifty million dollars later the new stadium suffers from broken elevators, water leaks and even mold. Other issues include electricity shorting in the kitchen and $500,000 in damage to Jerry Seinfeld’s luxury suite.

[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

14. The Experience Music Project, Seattle

Just what the hell is this supposed to be? The EMP building was born out of the “Experience Music Project” founded by Paul Allen of Microsoft. Guess who the architect was? Yes, that’s right Frank Gehry. In Gehry’s own words the building’s design came from “collecting pictures of Stratocasters, bringing in guitar bodies, (and) drawing on those shapes in developing our ideas”. Yeah, we can buy that. The building was intended to showcase rock memorabilia. The building has received some scathing criticisms including Herbert Muschamp described it as “something that crawled out of the sea, rolled over, and died.”

15. The Millenium Dome, London

Ah, the Millenium Dome. Built to celebrate the coming Millenium and designed by Richard Rogers the dome’s opening was highly anticipated. Despite its promising future, it became a bit of an anticlimax.

It has twelve yellow steel support towers, representing each of the months in the year. The dome’s diameter is also 365 meters, representing every day within a year, nice touch!

The dome is sited on the Greenwich Peninsula in London as is said to have cost around $1.25 billion dollars to build. It opened to the public on January 1st, 2000 but failed to attract its estimated 12 million visitors. That year it only attracted around six million visitors, the author being one, and closed shortly afterward. Not because of the author, honest! The dome underwent a further 40 million dollar decommission with a subsequent redevelopment several years later to be reborn as a music venue.

16. Ryugyong Hotel, North Korea

Intended to be used as a 3000 bedroom hotel, Ryugyong has yet to take any guests, yet alone actually open.

Construction commenced in 1987 and halted soon after in 1992. Amazingly the entire project has cost the North Korean’s around 2% of its budget over the last few decades! To this day it still remains unfinished, unopened and unoccupied. Even in its incomplete state, it is reportedly the 22nd largest skyscraper in the world. Money shortages and faulty engineering appear to be the main causes for this aborted building.

Despite it technically being a failure to date it does have some international fans. A pair of German architects has set up a fan site Ryugyong.org that describes the building as “experimental collaborative online architecture site”.

17. Kangbashi District, Ordos City, China

In an effort to increase their GDP, China decided to build the Kangbashi District of Ordos around 29 kilometers from the main city. The roads alone cost $352 million dollars to lay. The entire project took a mere 5 years to complete, impressive! Despite most of the homes and apartments being sold, the site is literally a ghost town. Most of the purchasers are actually investors rather than prospective tenants. The town was intended to home over 1 million citizens but it remains completely empty and deserted!

This architectural failure is literally a ghost town!

18. Chelsea Waterside Park, New York City

This architectural failure is more of a faux pas than an outright failure, per se. The final “product” caused quite a stir when it was unveiled to the public in 2000. Thomas Balsley won a competition ran by the Department of transportation for the project and he certainly let his imagination run riot. Part of the design consists of several water fountains of a seemingly phallic form! Though not obvious to children, these “fountains” certainly bemused parents and adults.

“See, we definitely got people talking,” Mr. Balsley told the New York Observer in an interview. “People can say what they want to say, but the intent is harmless.”

To this day it has gone unchanged despite various campaigns to have the park redesigned!

19. W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts

The University of Massachusetts houses three distinguished libraries including the Music Reserve Lab and Science and Engineering library. Probably the best know is the W.E.B Du Bois library which is the tallest library in the US at 26 storeys. Soon after opening its doors the out brickwork began to spall shedding chips of brick. Rumour began to circulate that the architect hadn’t calculated the weight of books which was the cause for the spalling.

Despite this claim not being verified, 60,000 books were removed from the library. Investigations later found the building was slowly but surely sinking into the pond saturated grounds around the building.

20. The Dubai Aquarium

Housing around 400 sharks and stingrays and 33,000 other types of fish this 2.5 million gallon aquarium is impressive, in scale at least. You’ll find the giant fish tank smack bang in the middle of the world’s largest shopping mall. The mall is part of the $20 million dollar downtown Burj Dubai development. Incredibly, 60,000 tickets were sold in the first five days of opening! Within two years however potential disaster struck!

In February of 2010, the central mall needed to be evacuated after water was found gushing out of the tank! Six divers worked around the clock to repair the leak and an army of workers mopped the floor! Thankfully no fish were harmed, or divers in the shark-infested tank. The whole debacle was a massive embarrassment for the development!

The following video isn’t the best quality but it must have been a hair-raising experience for mall goers!

21. John Hancock Tower, Boston

Designed by I M Pei and Partners the John Hancock Tower is a 60 storey skyscraper in Boston. It opened in 1976 and received great praise for its minimalist form. Despite the praise, this example of architectural failures seems to be problem ridden. In “Why buildings fall down” by Matthys Levy and Mario Salvadori, he explained that repeated, unexpected, thermal stresses were the cause.

As you can imagine, correcting this fault became a high priority and all 10,000 windows were soon replaced.

The tower’s woes didn’t end there. As you know, skyscrapers are normally designed to sway in high winds. Normally this is imperceptible to the occupants, not so here. So bad was the problem that occupants on the upper floors actually suffered from motion sickness! Much to the relief of workers on the upper floors, the problem was fixed by a Cambridge engineer  William LeMessurier.

22. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles

Not content with providing MIT with a flawed building design Frank Gehry has gone on to produce other potentially lethal buildings. The Walt Disney Concert Hall is an ambitious building by design that comes at a cost. The building is very shiny indeed with lots of elegant curves, albeit in seemingly haphazard fashion. Naturally being shiny and curvy the building tends to reflect a lot of sunlight. These reflected rays have the potential for blinding drivers and heating up neighboring buildings by up to 9 degrees Celsius. Believe it or not, so bad is the effect that local sidewalks (pavements) can be heated up by 60 degrees celsius!

23. Zizkov Tower, Prague

Built between 1985 and 1992, the Zizkov Television tower is a unique transmitter tower in Prague. The tower is a “great” example of high-tech architecture and also a prime example of architectural failures. Depending on your taste this is either an architectural triumph or a horrible eyesore in an otherwise beautiful city. Prague’s woes didn’t end with the tower itself. If you look closely you can probably make out several naked babies crawling up and down the tower! These babies become a permanent art installation in 2001. Interesting choice!

24. Longaberger Company Offices, Newark

Take one look at this building and guess what the company’s main product is? You got it, Longaberger is an American manufacturer and distributor of handcrafted maple wood baskets! Based on the design of the company’s biggest seller, “Medium Market Basket”, it is in part a great success. Faithfully recreating a basket in building form is certainly bold! Longaberger occupied the building between 1997 and 2016.

25. Biomuseo, Panama City

Guess who’s back? That’s right our old friend Frank Gehry, he loves his architectural failures. The Biomuseo was his first design for latin America and what a design! Gehry sketched up plans in 1999 and the building opened to the public in 2014. With the Biomuseo it seems Gehry really out did himself. To some, it looks like either a collapsed building or a literal pile of junk!

So endeth our list of 25 incredible architectural failures. These were some of the worst designed or poorly constructed buildings in history. Did we miss any? Feel free to let us know your suggestions in the comments below.

Sources: BusinessInsiderCNBCCracked

Featured Image Source: The Star Online via YouTube

SEE ALSO: 8 of the Craziest Construction Project Proposals in History


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