False failure

20 years ago, Benson was a promising architect. Having two master’s degrees from UCL, Benson was working for a renowned firm in London.

One day, his team was tasked with designing a skyscraper in the city. The concept was intriguing. Instead of a boring flat façade, they proposed a curved glass front. They named it “walkie-talkie”.

The construction was fast. The skyscraper was inaugurated only 3 years after the design stage.

But then, one day the client called: “Come here and see what you have done”. When they arrived, the building was normal. Everything was going so well, except the client gazing at them like a lion preparing to rip a gazelle apart. He pointed at a car outside the “walkie-talkie”. It was deformed and marked off with police tapes.

It turned out that the curved glass façade became a giant concave mirror, focusing sunlight on the car. Where there is a concentrated sun ray, there is extreme heat. It melted the car. Simple physics.

That year, the “walkie-talkie” was given an award – The Worst New Building in the UK. What’s worse, Benson’s firm was sued by the client.

Fortunately, he walked away with a clean track record. But that marked the end of the company. He lost almost everything, his reputation, his job, and his career.

But Benson was undeterred. He applied for his third master’s course at the University of Cambridge. His experience with the walkie-talkie was put into words in his application essay scoring him a full scholarship.

Last year, I took a master’s programme at the University of Nottingham. As luck would have it, Benson was my course convenor and mentor. He has been taking charge of this master’s programme for 10 years. Whenever I think of the man, I recall his catchphrase: “You cannot sell your architecture by bullshitting”.

(This story is fiction yet based on a real incident. In 2013, the infamous “walkie-talkie” melted some parts of a Jaguar car. The owner of the building paid £1,000 to the man whose car parts were melted.)