The Walkie Talkie Death Ray Could Actually Have Killed Someone

Harry Rosehill
By Harry Rosehill Last edited 61 months ago
The Walkie Talkie Death Ray Could Actually Have Killed Someone
Photo: Shutterstock

Remember a few years back when the Walkie Talkie was melting cars on the pavement beneath, earning it the nickname 'death ray'? Someone's done a bit of research into it, to see whether the building was really worthy of that title.

Imperial College fire expert Guillermo Rein ran computer simulations to see how dangerous the reflected sunlight off the Walkie Talkie's concave surface was, especially to passers by on the street. An article in the Journal of Building Performance Simulation shows his findings.

The paper proves that the name 'death ray' wasn't standard journalistic hyperbole — the reflected solar radiation actually could have killed someone.

Source: Jiaje Zhu, Wolfram Jahn & Guillermo Rein. Journal of Building Performance Simulation

When the building was first unveiled and the death ray effect discovered, the usual poor London weather was (thankfully) providing cloud coverage. Were it not for this, the reflected radiation could've started fires and harmed pedestrians.

Professor Rein said:

By sheer luck, the beam didn't cause anyone serious harm. Had the worst-case scenario happened, the ray would've been so intense it could have started fires in nearby flats, and hurt the skin and eyes of passers-by — particularly children and the elderly. Cloud cover and the path of the ray (which did not fall on street level at its worst), helped avoid this worst-case scenario.

Fear not though, there's no reason to fear the Walkie Talkie — officially called 20 Fenchurch Street — any more. Once the death ray was discovered, alterations were made to the building's design to nullify the effect. This study hopes to help architects think more carefully when designing buildings in future.

Last Updated 23 November 2018