25 Extremely Embarrassing Architectural Failures

From poor design to false economies many architectural failures throughout history could easily have been prevented, let's look at a few.
Christopher McFadden

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 and downright dangerous, to some very ugly architectural projects throughout history.


Please note that this list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.

1. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is probably the most famous example

architectural failures tower of pisa
Source: Sergey Peterman/iStock

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 Pisa 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 ground ultimately led to the tower's present-day situation.

The tilt became progressively worse during construction, and the builders attempted to correct the problem by building upper levels at an angle to the base. You can see the evidence of this today with the tower's slight curve in form. 

But this wasn't enough.

Over the following centuries, The tower has continued to sink at around 1 mm a yearThe structure was stabilized by remedial work between 1993 and 2001, which reduced the angle of the tilt.

2. Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington was another embarrassing architectural failure

architectural failures tacoma bridge
Source: Washington State Department of Transport/Flickr

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 was closed a mere four months later when it spectacularly collapsed!

In an attempt to try to keep costs down, cheap girders were chosen. This decision ultimately doomed the bridge.

Shortly after its construction, the bridge began to buckle and sway along its length, even with the normal winds, earning it the nickname "Galloping Gertie". 

It finally collapsed on the 7th of November, 1940 under the stress of 43 mph (70 km/h) winds. The center stay began torsionally vibrating, and the torsional vibration amplitude built up to a two-wave twisting motion. At the same time, the center part of the bridge (along the length) remained motionless, while its other two halves twisted in opposite directions. The dramatic torsional motion was due to a failure of a cable which connected to the center of the diagonal ties. Due to the motion, the towers holding the spans were pulled inward, cracks formed, and finally, the entire bridge crashed down into the river. Amazingly, no lives were lost.

You've probably seen the now-infamous footage, but here it is or your pleasure.

3. Another embarrassing architectural failure was Kemper Arena, Kansas

architectural failures stadium

 Source: Garrett Fuller/Wikimedia Commons

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 keep from inundating the nearby West Bottoms area. Sadly, 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 placement of the bolts had been miscalculated.

Once the chain reaction ensued, the whole thing came tumbling down!

4. The Aon Center incident could have been avoided

architectural disasters Aon center
Source: Ryan/Flickr

This impressive tower is Chicago's third tallest building and opened in 1974. 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, before the building was even completed, one slab detached. This rogue piece crashed onto the roof of the neighboring Prudential Centre. 

After exposure to Chicago’s large temperature swings, much of the façade began to deteriorate to dangerous levels. The changes in temperature from summer to winter caused the thin marble slabs to bow outward, resulting in permanent deformation and a loss in strength.

Not ideal, to say the least.

$80 million dollars!

5. Secret Intelligence Service Building is not the most inconspicuous of buildings

architectural failures SIS building
Source: It's No Game/Flickr

Unlike other entries on our list of architectural failures, this one isn't necessarily structurally unsound. The SIS building is the home of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, the MI6, and where James Bond "goes to the office" in the fictional series.

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It became the headquarters of the SIS in 1994. Some have even noted its resemblance to a Mayan Temple.

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 sight"? On another note, the Pentagon is not much different in this respect too. 

Clever, very clever.

6. The Lotus Riverside Complex tragedy was completely avoidable

architectural failures lotus riverside
Source: SandCrabNews/YouTube

In June of 2009 one of the buildings at the Lotus Riverside complex, Shanghai collapsed, killing one worker. Rushed and low-quality construction techniques ultimately doomed the project.

All 15 stories of the apartment block—one of 11 in the complex—was almost completed when it fell. The collapse cost not only a worker's life but the dreams of hopeful families and investors.

Half of the units had already been sold at around $60,000 apiece! 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 of them were later found guilty.

7. A window actually fell off the CNA Center in Chicago

architectural failures CNA
Source: Antoine Taveneaux/Wikimedia Commons

Opened in 1972, the CNA Center is a high-rise, 44 stories, building in Chicago. The building was designed by Graham Anderson, Probst & White, and is a vibrant red, so you can't really miss it!

In 1999, a large piece of a cracked window came loose and plummeted from the 29th floor. Sadly the accident caused a single fatality. It was also not the first time falling glass from the building had struck someone. Consultants had earlier found that the building's glass could not withstand thermal stress, which occurs when a warm area of glass expands against a cooler area, creating pressure that can cause it to crack.

The tragedy led to an $18 million dollar settlement and a later refurbishment of all the building's windows.

The windows are still monitored monthly to this day.

8. Ray and Maria Stata Center was not the best-quality build of all time

architectural failures MIT
Source: Lucy Li/Wikimedia Commons

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 mold even 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 in New York was an embarrassing project

architectural failures playground
Source: BrooklynHeightsBlog

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 need to test things like swing seats to make sure they aren't too hot.

This principle obviously eluded the design team. The climbing frames, and well domes, often became too hot to touch, with one parent measuring the temperature at 127 degrees Fahrenheit (52 deg. C).

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.

10. The 2004 Olympics Stadia in Greece are now completely vacant

architectural failures greece olympics
Source: NASA/Flickr

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. 

It has been speculated that this massive investment in now-defunct infrastructure was partly responsible for Greece's economic woes.

11. The Walkie Talkie Centre is basically a giant solar collector

architectural failures walkie talkie
Source: Martin Pettitt/Flickr

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.

Even before its completion, complaints began to roll in regarding its focusing of sunlight onto local streets. In one notable instance, the design of the building was even responsible for partially melting a Jaguar parked nearby, and other cars have been damaged by it. The problem was solved by fitting the building with a sunshade.

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

12. Vdara Hotel & Spa in Las Vegas is another giant solar collector

embarassing architectural failures vdara
Source: Jeff Stvan/Flickr

The Vdara 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 acted as a giant magnifying glass, focusing the power of the sun directly into the swimming pool area. Guests immediately began to complain that they were regularly getting "burned" and the building was dubbed, "the Death Ray".

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. The Mets Citi Field in New York was a bit of a failure

architectural failures Mets Citi Field
Source: lisatozzi/Wikimedia Commons

This building is best described by the New York Post, "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. 

14. The Experience Music Project in Seattle is more of an art project than a great piece of architecture

architectural failures EMP
Source: Avi/Flickr

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," as the famous saying goes. Never has this been more fitting than when considering the Experience Music Project (EMP) in Seattle. 

The EMP building was born out of the "Experience Music Project" founded by Paul Allen of Microsoft. Can you 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".

The building was intended to showcase rock memorabilia. Funnily enough, 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 in London was a bit of a damp squib

architectural failures o2
Source: Robert Pittman/Flickr

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 1200 feet (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. The dome underwent a further 40 million dollar decommission with a subsequent redevelopment several years later to be reborn as a music venue.

It is now known as the O2 Arena.

16. Ryugyong Hotel in North Korea never opened

architectural failures ryugyong
Source: Clay Gilliland/Flickr

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

Construction commenced in 1987 and was halted in 1992. Amazingly, the entire project has cost the North Korean 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 of this aborted building.

17. Kangbashi District in China is a ghost town

architectural failures ordos
Source: Earth Titan/YouTube

In an effort to increase its GDP, China decided to build the Kangbashi District of Ordos around 18 miles (29 kilometers) from the main city. The roads alone cost $352 million dollars to lay.

After 5 years, many of the homes and apartments had been completed and sold, but the civic amenities, like schools and shops had not been completed and the site become known as something of a ghost town.

Today, it has aorund 100,000 residents and is slowly growing larger. It is clear that, while China can build the husks of new cities with remarkable haste, actually inhabiting them is far more of a long-term endeavor. 

18. Chelsea Waterside Park in New York City has some interesting design choices

architectural failures penis park
Source: SWA/Balsley

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 wild. 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 didn't have the greatest start to its life

architectural failures W.E.B.
Source: stepnout/Flickr

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 stories.

Soon after opening its doors, the outer 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 ground around the building.

20. The Dubai Aquarium actually leaked

architectural failures dubai aquarium
Source: Jason Mrachina/Flickr

Housing around 400 sharks and stingrays and 33,000 other types of fish this 2.5 million gallon (9,463,529 lt) aquarium is impressive, in scale at least. You'll find the giant fish tank smack bang in the middle of one of the world's largest shopping malls.

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. The John Hancock Tower was fun to visit

architectural failures john hancock tower
Source: Sean Davis/Flickr

Designed by I M Pei and Partners, the John Hancock Tower (now known as 200 Clarendon Street) is a 60 story skyscraper in Boston. It opened in 1976 and received great praise for its minimalist form.

However, in November 1972 the buildings' glass from the unfinished building began raining down on the street below. 

It  turned out that the outer layer of reflective chrome  on the windows was rigidly soldered to the metal window frame, allowing no flexibility. Since the windows could not flex in the wind, they cracked. The cracks spread and soon all windows failed. By mid-1973 several thousand of them had broken.

The problem was solved when all 10,000 windows were replaced with more robust glazing made of tempered glass, at a measly cost of $7 mn.

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, but 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. The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles is another badly designed building

architectural failures walt disney concert hall
Source: Allan Watt/Flickr

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 and polished metal. Naturally, being shiny and curvy the building tends to reflect a lot of sunlight.

These reflected rays had the potential for blinding drivers and heating up neighboring buildings by up to 16.2 degrees Fahrenheit (9 degrees Celsius). 

The highly polished stainless steel panels were dulled to become less reflectiveusing a two-step sanding process — vibrational sanding to dull large areas and then orbital sanding to provide a more acceptable aesthetic look visually. 

23. The Zizkov Tower in Prague is another interestingly designed building

architectural failures zizkov tower
Source: tonyhodson/Flickr

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 is actually a pretty cute building

architectural building basket building
Source: haRee/Flickr

Take one look at this building and try to 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 in Panama City is yet another failure in architectural design

architectural failures biomuseo
Source: Victor/Flickr

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 it was. Gehry sketched up plans in 1999 and the building opened to the public in 2014.

With the Biomuseo it seems Gehry really outdid 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.

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