Biggest Design Errors Engineers and Architects Made

Design Errors

Designing things is hard. You must go to school for years doing un-fun things like math and physics to become qualified to build most things professionally. And because humans are humans and not calculators, mistakes are likely to occur. In this article, I’ll show you 10 bizarre and noteworthy examples of design errors made by engineers and architects.

10. Aircraft Carrier Runways

Aircraft carriers were a significant factor during WWII due to the significance of having air superiority over other nations. Because the planes of that era had much more limited flight ranges than they do now, being able to land in the middle of the ocean was a huge advantage.

© Wikipedia/USN

Unfortunately, making this landing in the middle of the ocean was seriously difficult. The runway on the top of the ships was so small that in order to stop in time, planes had to catch a wire that would slow their speed. This was also difficult for pilots to do, and so landing was perilous.

© Wikipedia/United Kingdom Government

Imagine driving your car towards the edge of the Grand Canyon, and the only thing between you and going over is a couple of your drunk friends holding some dental floss.

 

Needless to say, there were many disastrous crashes due to this design, especially since planes waiting to take off were positioned at the end of the runway. But, there was a seemingly simple solution—they set the runway at a nine-degree angle instead of making it straight. This allowed planes to simply pull up if they missed the wire, and circle around for another attempt.

 

9. The Tacoma Narrows bridge

You can easily break an uncooked spaghetti noodle by simply flicking it, or perhaps grasping it too hard in your crazed rush to make and eat spaghetti. However, you couldn’t break a cooked spaghetti noodle so easily, because of course, the cooked noodle can bend in response to the pressure. If you can grasp this concept, you are officially one step ahead of the engineers who designed the Tacoma Narrows bridge.

© Wikimedia Commons/ University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections

Unlike most large bridges, the Tacoma Narrows bridge was completely solid, without any holes, like an uncooked noodle. The Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, can actually move an entire six feet from side to side in the wind. The Tacoma Narrows bridge, with no holes and therefore no give, simply collapsed due to the mundane occurrence of a windy day. With no holes for the wind to pass through, the bridge took the full force of the gale.

8. The Hyatt Regency Walkway

One plus one equals two. Except for instances of supporting aerial walkways with metal rods that have to bear huge amounts of weight. The Hyatt Regency Walkway in Kansas City collapsed because the people in charge decided that it would be easier to just use two metal rods where they were going to use one long one.

© Wikipedia/Dr. Lee Lowery, Jr., P.E. & Wikipedia/Dr. Lee Lowery, Jr., P.E.

I mean, imagine how hard it would be to move around one big metal rod. It was probably super heavy. This original plan would have suspended both walkways from the ceiling with a single rod that went through both of them stacked on top of each other.

Unfortunately, the two-rod plan, which had the top walkway connected to the ceiling with one rod, and the second walkway connected to the first with a second rod, left the entire weight of the structure on that first rod, and the whole thing fell to the ground and hundreds of people died.

 

7. Square windows

The ‘Havilland Comet’ was the first attempt at creating a commercial jetliner. The first attempts, however, failed spectacularly, disintegrating midair and leaving fifty six people dead.

© PX Here

It was baffling to the engineers because the problem was so bizarrely simple. The reason behind blowing was the jetliner’s square windows. The next time you pass by an older house, take a look at the windows – there are most likely cracks around the corners more so than anywhere else.

This is because the sharp edges of squares create ‘stress concentration’ points, and when you’re a plane going extremely fast extremely high off the ground, it really concentrates a lot of stress – enough to destroy the whole thing in an instant.

 

For this reason, planes now have rounded windows for equal stress distribution around the whole frame.

© Wallpaper Flare

6. The Citigroup Center

If the Citigroup Center had gone forward as initially planned, and engineer Joel Weinstein had never double-checked the whole thing, it very possibly could have destroyed all of Manhattan. The entire project is a lesson about why you should be flexible with your plans sometimes.

© Wikipedia/Amar.raavi

The hazardous design initially came about because architect William LeMessurier wanted to build his skyscraper on a certain site, but that certain site was already in use by St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. Rather than looking for another site, he decided to simply build a skyscraper right above the little church.

© Manhattan Walk Blog

If you think that putting a skyscraper on stilts instead of on the ground sounds really crazy, you are correct. It’s so crazy, in fact, that had Weinstein not warned them to weld on ‘wind joints’ instead of bolting them, the Red Cross estimated that the death toll resulting from the collapse would have been roughly two hundred thousand and that a hundred and fifty-six blocks would have been damaged.

Bolting, it turns out, is not a substitute for welding. To understand the difference, imagine if you cut your finger off and the doctor surgically reattached it to your body – that would be like welding. You can call it bolting if he just duct-taped it back onto your hand.

 

5. Santos, Brazil

The city of Santos, Brazil is famous both for producing Pele and having extraordinarily bad engineering. About a hundred buildings in the city are at an angle, essentially taking away anyone’s right to ever make fun of the Leaning Tower of Pisa ever again.

© Wikipedia/Saffron Blaze & Atlas Obscura

The buildings were created before Brazil decided to have specific laws put in place for how deep foundations had to be, so they’re built on foundations that are only fifteen feet deep – about a third of the necessary depth. They were also all built on soft, unstable clay.

 

Oddly enough, people still live in these severely crooked buildings. Only one has ever been straightened out, and the process cost half a million dollars. Presumably, if people are willing to live in a slanted building, there isn’t a lot of incentive to pay the money to straighten it out. If you are interested in owning one of these jauntily angled structures, you can purchase one for only thirty thousand dollars.

 

And just to show that first world countries aren’t immune to similar mistakes, the Kansai International Airport in Japan was built on top of sand, and was sinking at a rate of twenty inches per year in 1994.

© Wikipedia/mackwo7

4. Tropicana field

Home of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, this field is hazardous enough to a game of baseball to make it seem like it would fit better in Mario Superstar Baseball than in the MLB.

© Flickr/Eric Kilby

The ceiling of the stadium, which does a great job of blocking the rain, also does a great job of blocking home runs. There are four large catwalks hanging off of the ceiling that have blocked innumerable hits from leaving the field.

 

They also hold the lights, which occasionally rain superheated glass down onto the field when they get hit by balls. All in all, the field received criticism as a truly ridiculous way to design a baseball stadium.

3. Walt Disney Concert Hall

The Walt Disney Concert Hall definitely cannot be criticized for looking boring, with its wavy jumble of walls making for an unorthodox design.

© Flickr/Giuseppe Milo

This design, however, also makes for very unorthodox problems. The curvature of the walls combined with their highly reflective nature, it turned out, created a super villainous heat ray. The building has blinded drivers, and heated sidewalks to a hundred and forty degrees like a giant kid with a magnifying glass.

 

Fortunately, they later corrected their mistake by sandblasting the walls to reduce glare so that they don’t accidentally incinerate some pedestrians.

The Vdara hotel in Las Vegas suffered from the same problem, melting nearby plastic and actually burning guests with its own heat ray.

© Trivago

2. The Lotus Riverside building

The Lotus Riverside building complex in Shanghai was going to be a complex of eleven buildings, and most of the flats had actually already been sold off before construction was even completed.

Things continued to go well for the project until one day one of the buildings just up and fell flat on its side, which is not usually something that you want to have happened to a building. While the building itself was fine, the reason for this collapse was piling the excavated dirt in order to build the underground parking garage into a landfill beside a nearby river.

© Sydney Morning Herald

They then proceeded to ignore warnings about how bad of an idea it was to dam up a river right next to your construction project. Soon afterward, it rained, the river flooded its banks, and the building’s foundations gave way.

1. The Isaac Peral Submarine

The key to submarines is that unlike boats, they travel underneath rather than on top of the water, and unlike rocks they don’t just sink straight to the bottom of the ocean.

Navantia, the ship-builder for the Spanish Navy, must have temporarily forgotten this principle when they constructed the Isaac Peral sub and then realized that it was seventy five tons overweight.

© The Drive

It would be great at submerging, which is fine, but it wouldn’t be so great at resurfacing. The submarine’s engine simply wouldn’t be strong enough to pull it back up again.

 

It would be a bit like putting a moped engine into a semi-truck.

The submarine needs a complete re-design, delaying the project by years and costing the Spanish government millions of dollars.

© Twitter/Matthew Bennett

The company admitted to the comical design error simply by stating that “deviations related to the balance of weight” had been found. Sort of the same excuse McDonald’s Fanatics make when standing on the weighing scales.

So while it certainly seems as though the infrastructure that we rely upon every day is foolproof, it isn’t always. Which of the design errors do you think was easily avoidable? Let me know in the comment section down below.

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