Reality Straight Up!

Thoughts & Observations of a Free Range Astrophysicist

How Not to Treat an Expensive Sports Car

One melted Jaguar later a group of architects in London might wish they had asked an astronomer to take a look at their plans.


With its curved glass-covered sides, the “Walkie Talkie” building under construction at 20 Fenchurch Street is a beautiful example of the technical and artistic possibilities of modern architecture.

Even a first year physics student would tell you that it is also a concave mirror capable of focusing light. The same principle is used to gather light in astronomical telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope.

To make matters worse the curved side is on the south side of the building where it concentrates sunlight, turning the sidewalk and street below into an unplanned solar furnace!

One of the most recent victims of this oversized version of a child with a magnifying glass was a Jaguar XJ. The car’s owner returned after parking along Fenchurch, only to find that the side mirrors and panels on his $100,000 sports car were melted. And this is in London!

The last I heard builders and city officials were “considering the situation.”

When facing complex, high stakes decisions a broad range of perspectives is your friend. The more smart people who look at something – especially smart people without any obvious connection to the task at hand! – the more likely you are to spot a W.A.G. before it’s too late.

The skyscraper’s architects should have seen the problem coming while the building was still on the drawing board.

How Not to Treat an Expensive Sports Car  © Dr. Jeff Hester
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Over his 30 year career as an internationally known astrophysicist, Dr. Jeff Hester was a key member of the team that repaired the Hubble Space Telescope. With one foot always on the frontiers of knowledge, he has been mentor, coach, team leader, award-winning teacher, administrator and speaker, to name a few of the hats he has worn. His Hubble image, the Pillars of Creation, was chosen by Time Magazine as among the 100 most influential photographs in history.
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