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This collection of engineering SNAFUs captures some classics – like the Boston molasses disaster to faulty melty railroad rails. Yes, unless properly pressurized, rails can warp and cause a harrowing ride for trains. Or how about the train tracks that cross a major city street with no rail guards?
One of my favorites is the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. It was designed by Frank Gehry. It was opened in 2003. Most of the building's exterior was designed with stainless steel in highly polished mirror-like panels. The reflective qualities of the surface were amplified by the concave sections.
Some residents of the neighboring condominiums suffered glare caused by sunlight that was reflected off these surfaces and concentrated like a parabolic mirror. The resulting heat made some rooms of nearby condominiums unbearably warm, caused the air-conditioning costs of these residents to skyrocket, and created hot spots on adjacent sidewalks of as much as 140 °F (60 °C).
Mitch Diamond for Getty Images
There was also the increased risk of traffic accidents due to blinding sunlight reflected from the polished surfaces. After complaints from neighboring buildings and residents, the owners asked Gehry Partners to come up with a solution. Their response was a computer analysis of the building's surfaces identifying the offending panels. In 2005, these were dulled by lightly sanding the panels to eliminate unwanted glare.