Architectural Failures — Even Masters Don’t Always Get It Right

Architectural Failures — Even Masters Don’t Always Get It Right

Masters of architecture have influenced countless students that taps into the field. However, even masters can, sometimes, fail as well.

Maters like Right, Cobb, and Herzog all have stumbled over the four hard nuts:


To brief you the ideas

Whenever it rains, they drip; whenever it floods, they drown.

Farnsworth Residence/ The Villa Savoye/ Falling Water

They were like giant concave mirrors, with blazing sunlight, eggs can be boiled, plastics be ignited, and automobiles melt easily under its reflection.

Walt Disney Concert Hall/ Vdara Hotel and Spa/ Walkie Talkie

These two buildings fell short of expectation for inferior construction. Later, they got diagnosed with building dermatitis.

Guangzhou Opera House/ Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall

But what happens when master architects fail?

Mother: My house is leaking.

Cobb: If you do care about the world around you, you will know that I‘ve become one of the most famous architects in the world. My clients are everywhere.

Mother: Good, but my house is still leaking.

I. Leaking

Farnsworth Residence

by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe

The owner of this house is a single female doctor in Illinois named Farnsworth. She met Van der Rohe at a dinner party and the two clicked at the moment. Ms. Farnsworth described their rendezvous as:”the effect was tremendous, like a storm, a flood, or other act of God.”

Later, Farnsworth entrusted her house to Mies, who took the idea “less is more” to its extreme. The house has no brick wall but French windows all around. Other than the washing rooms, every corner of the house is exposed to the outside world. The owner can appreciate the natural beauty from within, seemingly a scene where men and nature become one.

However, from Farnsworth’s perspective, this minimalist glasshouse meant only no privacy, plus problems like the room temperature changing with seasons, lights attracting insects at night, visitors wandering around at day time had all make it intolerable. She once conveyed her experience as “I feel like a prowling animal, always on the alert. I am always restless. Even in the evening. I feel like a sentinel on guard day and night. I can rarely stretch out and relax.”

She once tried to stop Mies from proceeding. After the completion of the house, Farnsworth, facing extravagant construction cost and other nuisances, ended up in courtroom against Mies, suing him of fraud and demanded return of all the expenses.

Due to the low base of this building, it was flooded whenever rainstorm arrived. Successor Palumbo spent seven times the original construction price to fix it. Unfortunately, Farnsworth Residence was once again flooded this May.

From this picture it doesn’t look half as bad, does it?

Now let’s take out the filter and see what Farnsworth once felt: “It felt like a storm, a flood.”

Mother’s House

by Le Corbusier

Sitting on the shore of Lake Geneva, or Mother’s House, was built by Cobb for his beloved mother. It is a perfect living machine with reasonable functions, moderate size, and the long-stretched windows enlarge the lake view.

It is also in this house that Cobb’s parents and brother passed away. And they had rendered the lake house with a somewhat unique sense.

However, the house kept leaking, even after Cobb personally mapped out repair plans for the engineers.

In the documentary Behind the Artist, there’s a line that goes:

Mother: My house is leaking.

Cobb: If you care about the world around you, you will know that I have become one of the most famous architects in the world. My clients are everywhere.

Mother: Good, but my house is still leaking.

II. Played-Out Buildings Due To Inferior Construction

Vision VS. Reality

Guangzhou Opera House

by Zaha Hadid

Located in the Guangzhou CBD, the Guangzhou Opera House presents a unique shape assembling two divined stones nursed by the Pearl River, a design by the late British designer Zaha Hadid, the first female Pritzker Architecture Award winner.

It seems, not bad at night?

Let’s just take a look at the following two photos from the same angle but at different times of the day. The building in daylight is like “disillusionment”, and we can see the rough exterior clearly.

The facade of the building is a three-way oblique folded-plate shell, which is composed of more than 5000 pieces of glass and 75000 stones, all with the same size but different shapes. When it was being built in 2006, construction in China was still unable to fulfill the authentic effect of this kinds of bizarrely-shaped buildings.

As a result, the surface of the building has various-width gaps, out-of-tune textures, and even patches!

Besides, its poor post-maintenance has made things worse.

The two “divined stones” now turns into an out-of-repair-for-years Youth Palace in some fourth or fifth-tier cities. The once beautiful lines sketched in the renderings fails to become reality. Quite an embarrassing scene to sit on the central axis of Guangzhou.

But the interior is much better. The choice of interior materials is relatively easier for the treatment of irregular surfaces. Away from natural erosion, the interior looks fantastic overall with professional lighting layout.

Elbphilharmonie concert hall

by Herzog & de Meuro

Located at Warehouse A in Hamburg, Germany, The Elbphilharmonie concert hall is designed by Herzog & De Meuron. It was originally a warehouse built and put into use between 1963 and 1966. The new structure is placed over the old building like a crystal crown.

It also has a gigantic gem effect, upon which the water, the sky, and the city of Hamburg are reflected, rendering it with fluid visual effects

This dreamlike rendering filled everyone with excitement to witness the day of its completion. But in reality, the “demo” looked like this:

Netizens joked about this building as: “This is not the exterior a building should have, this is dermatitis!”

But once completed, for a certain period of time, the sky, the water and scenes were captured by the glass façades, which is not as uncomfortable as it was in the middle of the construction.

A ‘D’ it is, a bit astray from the rendering though.

The interior looks nice as well, with an exquisite touch.

III. It’s Just Not Working

The inevitable demolition

Nakagin Capsule Tower

by Kisho Kurokawa

The Nakagin Capsule Tower is located in Ginza, Tokyo. It was designed by the famous Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa. At the first glance, it feels like an ugly honeycomb. In fact, the building has also caused controversy from all parties, but this does not affect its importance in architecture.

The fixed foundation structure of this building ensures the stability and balance of the tower, and the cabin is inserted into it like Lego blocks, which can be replaced freely as needed.

The cabin design took inspiration from the spaceship. The whole building is like a huge space station within which over 140 cabins can be docked freely.

However, this high-end residence is almost deserted today, the utopian future living originally envisaged by Kisho has failed to become a reality.

The planned renewal every 25 to 30 years was shelved due to cost issues. The internal facilities were seriously aging while water leakage became a routine. The building even faced demolition several times as it was thought to be a waste within the prosperous area.

However, the novelty of its design has attracted numerous tourists, so the demolition was put off for more than ten years when it was left unintended and became obsolete.

Although these buildings have some practical problems, they are undoubtedly pioneering works. Compared with the functional “failure”, the value they brought to the development of our time is still worth our acknowledgment and learning!

Epoch-making design do strike us between the eyes. But is that all about the masters’ works?

Actually, their errors may turn out to be a valuable case study for us. After all, the coexistence of positive demonstration and lessons complete the meaning and mission of their works.

Whatever architects have failed to realize, architectural visualization will always be on the reight track unless there’s a misunderstanding between clients and the technical team. Moreover, it can prevent also prevent such problems as listed above by a great extent. For 3D rendering services, let AIMIR help you to air your ideas. We’re always available for any information, meet us!

Architecture Design Competition on the Urban Design of Huanggang Port Area

Architecture Design Competition on the Urban Design of Huanggang Port Area

Project overview:

The Huanggang Port Area, facing the Hong Kong Park across the river, belongs to a rare, complete and interconnected existing resource in the Shenzhen Park of the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Science and Technology Innovation Cooperation Zone. This international competition is hosted by Shenzhen Investment Holdings Co., Ltd. and organized by Shenzhen-Hong Kong Science and Technology Innovation Cooperation Zone Development Co., Ltd., under the guidance of Planning and Natural Resources Bureau of Shenzhen Municipality, Futian District People’s Government, and Bureau of Public Works of Shenzhen Municipality. This project is designed to solicit forward-looking, flexible, innovative and implementable urban design concepts and detailed design schemes, and build Shenzhen-Hong Kong cooperation demonstration zone and pilot area of the national comprehensive science center to drive the high-quality development of Shenzhen, based on Shenzhen-Hong Kong cooperation mainly in basic research and original innovation, and with an international vision and world-leading standards. The development background is Shenzhen as a pilot demonstration zone of socialism with Chinese characteristics and co-development of Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.

Project location

Huanggang Port Area at Shenzhen Park of Shenzhen-Hong Kong Science and Technology Innovation Cooperation Zone is located in the southern border of Futian District, facing Hong Kong across the Shenzhen River, and adjoining Huanggang Port Integrated Hub and Futian Port to the west and Hong Kong-Shenzhen Innovation and Technology Park (Hong Kong Park of Shenzhen-Hong Kong Science and Technology Innovation Cooperation Zone) to the east. This area enjoys outstanding advantages in terms of geographical location, rail transit, urban services, and ecological environment. In the future, it will turn into a key area for Shenzhen-Hong Kong cooperation in scientific and technological innovation, and an important functional area of Futian District, which is of strategic significance for the development of Shenzhen.

Scope of design

The scope of this urban design is divided into scope of study coordination and scope of detailed design. The study coordination scope is Loop Area C, including Futian Port, Huanggang Port, existing passenger inspection area and cargo inspection area, existing port residential area, Chiwei Village, etc., with an area of 1.67 square kilometers; the detailed design scope includes Huanggang Port cargo inspection area, existing port residential area and plots surrounding the port, with an area of about 0.89 square kilometers.

Fig. 1 Design Scope of the International Competition(Study coordination scope 1.67km², detailed design scope 0.89km²)

Work Content

Work content in the competition stage includes but not limited to: Propose the urban design ideas, objective and vision, and overall structure of Huanggang Port area; complete the functional business form layout, transport system design, public space design, the conceptual architectural design of important nodes, etc. In addition to the above work requirements of general urban design of important areas, emphasize the scientific research space design, terminal transport organization design, detailed design of three-dimensional space, public space and landscape design, and conceptual architectural design of the land around the Port. It is also required to put forward phased implementation schemes and space control guidance in combination with the given land release plan, to ensure the scheme enforceable.

The port cargo inspection area reaches the extent of detailed urban design to guide the unified planning and development of the park, while the surrounding plot of the Huanggang Port reaches the extent of conceptual architectural design, directly guiding the architectural design and linking with the design scheme of Huanggang Port, giving optimization suggestions.

The stage of further scheme development will be led by the first prize winner. The other excellent design schemes and expert suggestions should be put into consideration, have coordination with each special topic of Implementation Plan for Overall Planning of Shenzhen – Hong Kong Science and Technology Innovation Cooperation Zone, and form the optimization results of Urban Design of Huanggang Port Area at Shenzhen Park of Shenzhen – Hong Kong Science and Technology Innovation Cooperation Zone. Such results shall meet the requirements of urban design content for important areas.

Registration Requirements

(1) Regardless of the qualifications, any design agency (independent legal person) with relevant design experience at home and abroad can apply for this project. A consortium is also allowed, but its member cannot exceed 3, and each member of the consortium can no longer participate in this competition in its own name or in the name of another consortium formed with other design agencies. The application of individuals and individual groups is not accepted.

(2) A design agency  with the following experience will be given priority:

① Experience in designing international science parks;

② Experience in the urban design of key urban areas;

③ Experience in the urban design of port areas.

 (3) The designers participating in this international competition shall be registered in the design agency.

(4) The design agency with the intention of participation is required to fill in Attachment 1: Pre-registration Form and send it to


This international competition proceeds in three stages: Stage I – Prequalification, Stage II – Urban Design Scheme Competition, and Stage III – Further Development of Scheme. Among them, the prequalification will adopt the method of “directional invitation + open proposal solicitation” to directly shortlist 5 invited agencies for the next round. Meanwhile, shortlist 10 best candidates via prequalification review for the next round. A total of 15 agencies will enter the scheme competition stage.

Competition agenda:


5 million yuan for the first prize (1 unit);

3 million yuan for the second prize (2 units);

2 million for the third prize (3 units);

1.2 million for the fourth prize (9 units).

The design agency winning the first prize in this international competition will continue to participate in the subsequent development and consulting work. The fee for the subsequent work is 2 million yuan.

If you’re interested in this international competition, please feel free to contact AIMIR for specific information.

AIMIR is seasoned at providing high-quality architectural visualization tailored to each client’s individual needs. Want to know more about our service? Kindly drop us a line here.

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