Service of Isn’t it Obvious? Architecture & Design Mistakes that Trip Up

January 6th, 2022

Categories: Architecture, Design, Travel

Image by joffi from Pixabay

How do experts–some renowned–make terrible choices that novices probably wouldn’t?

Take the instance Emma Bubola described in her New York Times article, “Venice Gets a Grip on a Star Architect’s Slippery Bridge–The city will replace the glass on Santiago Calatrava’s footbridge across the Grand Canal with stone after too many pedestrians fell.” Bubola reported: “‘That is not a bridge,’ said Angelo Xalle, 71, a retired port worker, who recalled helping people with broken chins or foreheads get up from its sleek floor. ‘It’s a trap.'”

The first version of the Rialto Bridge, Venice’s oldest, was designed by Nicolò Barattieri. The wooden pontoon bridge, called Ponte della Moneta, was built in 1178.

Rialto Bridge, Venice. Image by Ruth Archer from Pixabay 

Calatrava’s inappropriate flooring choice for one of the some 400 foot bridges in the City of Bridges, by someone who might have covered the subject in the first semester of architecture school, reminded me of other design and architecture blips that surprised.

  • Significant cracks appeared in the cement floor only months after the Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center at Bard College opened.
  • All over Manhattan architects chose sidewalk materials for their color but forgot that some become skating rinks when water hits them in winter. One memorably death-defying walkway was in front of a building at 57th and Lexington Avenue. I need to check if they changed it.
  • Manhattan is an island so as I’ve asked countless times, why does the FDR Drive continue to flood during heavy rain? The Drive is not far from the East River and an engineer should be able to create an effective drainage system.
  • Have you walked down the stairs in a grand hotel with a patterned rug that didn’t have a plain border to indicate the edge of each tread? Without the visual warning to help mitigate trips, management is asking for many a lawsuit.
  • I once worked on the 34th floor of a newly built Manhattan skyscraper and wondered how well the rest of it was made because within months the tiles in the ladies room were popping out.

Is form follows function out of style? Are the mistakes so obvious that nobody questions them or are subordinates too afraid to speak up? Have you noticed comparable errors in design and architecture where you live?

Manhattan Sidewalks

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9 Responses to “Service of Isn’t it Obvious? Architecture & Design Mistakes that Trip Up”

  1. Deirdre Said:

    This is one of my favorite errors of architectural judgment. The architects chose mirrored flooring for this new tourist haven. Apparently, none have met men. As soon at the area opened, men started shooting photos of the mirrored images of women’s private areas – upskirting, as it’s known. Did the designers re-do the flooring? No, they told people to wear pants (although they announced do have a nonreflective “privacy path”). (click the “I’ll Try Later” button to see the article if you are not a subscriber)

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Holy smokes. What a story! Thank you for the clarification. I wonder if Santiago Calatrava realized this “benefit” to mankind when he specified the mirrored flooring?

  3. Martha T Takayama Said:

    Form follows function seems to have been ignored for ages now. Many designs simply are the product of architect’s fantasies with no concern for function or safety. I think the I.M.Pei’s John Hancock building for tower is a perfect example. Before that the Prudential Center opened with such disastrous wind tunnels that it was virtually unbearable to visit. All glass towers keep going up in Boston with total disregard for elements of environment, visual harmony, comfort and even safety. After having a tour of MIT’s Frank Gehry designed Strata building, by someone with an office in it, I concluded that Frank Gehry is the master of this type of design. The discomfort and disasters. Discomforts permeate all aspects of the building. I am at a loss to understand the awe and praise attributed to this work as well as others like the Calatrava bridge you mention.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Out my window are two residential apartment buildings that make me scratch my head. One skyscraper is scallop shaped—think of the collar of a little girl’s blouse. Did the architect think of the owner and where he/she would place furniture in rooms with rounded shapes? What about shades or window treatments? A recent houseguest seeing it said “I almost bought an apartment there when the building was in foreclosure.”

    The other building looks as though someone put a belt around it halfway up and tightened it so it leans. Think of doing this to yourself until the belt hurts. You’d lean like that as well. It’s been there for ages and doesn’t seem to have many tenants still.

  5. BC Said:

    Makes a lot of money for the lawyers with the slip and fall crowd! B. C.

  6. Debbie Kunen Said:

    Debbie on Facebook: Yes! The concrete sidewalks on 2nd Ave (courtesy of the condo tower on E. 50th St) started showing signs of cracking within the 1st year the building opened. The poor quality materials being used in overpriced new construction is “criminal” IMHO. You don’t get what you paid for 😡👎

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:


    At least someone gains—doctors do too— but I feel for the folks who hurt themselves.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Certain trees drop nuts that stain sidewalks. Some building engineers/architects specify the color and type of sidewalk that allows staff to remove the spots. Others don’t. Choosing the right one is often a matter of asking questions and looking around.

  9. Hussein Ahman-Uttah Said:

    Yes, I’m with you on that. I always rather liked the old Barattieri-designed 1178 Ponte della Moneta. I wonder why they replaced it? Always the pursuit of the more modern I suppose.

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