Death Ray: Hotel Design Blamed For Burning Guests in Pool

This could make for an interesting torts lawsuit. A new hotel, The Vdara, is a modern glass structure with a curved design. The striking architectural design has one other novel feature: a “death ray” that cooks people in the pool.

Guests have been complaining that the curvature of the building produces a “death ray” that literally melts plastic and causes severe burns in the pool area. During some parts of the day, the design appears to focus the sun. The result is like a kid with a giant magnifying glass — with swimmers acting like terrified ants. One lawyer complained that he actually lost some hair after being fried in the pool.

A reporter from the Las Vegas Review-Journal found that the design produced a fry zone of roughly 10-feet by 15-feet that increased the temperature by 20 degrees during certain periods.

The new hotel is owned by MGM MIrage and Gordon Absher acknowledged that the curved, concave shape produces such pockets of high temperatures. However, the management does not really like calling it a “death ray” (the name given by guests) but rather prefers “solar convergence phenomenon.” That really does not work quite as well. I mean, when this is made into a horror film, it is a real scene killer for people to be running in panic screaming “Look out for the solar convergence phenomenon.”

One telltale sign of a problem is when the pool staff brings you corn kernels when you order popcorn and just tell you to “be patient . . . it will be ready in a few minutes.” Then there is the recommendation of a sun lotion with SPF +400.

The hotel is working on the problem, but it will be interesting if it seeks damages from the architectual firm. Then there is the potential for lawsuits from guests and condo owners as both invitees and licensees. There is a duty to warn and make safe in such a circumstance. At a minimum, a sign should be posted saying “Warning: Death Ray Directed At Pool Guests During Certain Hours.”

This is a film of how the death ray works for people lounging at the pool as the sun moves into place:

Source: ABC

Jonathan Turley

14 thoughts on “Death Ray: Hotel Design Blamed For Burning Guests in Pool”

  1. It has almost the same curvature as a high efficiency solar furnace, and these windows are very similar to a Fresnel lens, although not quite as efficient, for which the guests may be truly grateful. A solar furnace uses the rays of the sun to produce incredibly high temperatures. The heat can then be used to create electricity, melt steel, or produce hydrogen fuel. The sizes of solar furnaces vary, as do their specific designs.
    Generally, the way a solar furnace works is by focusing light with reflective surfaces. The sun shines down onto a large, curved mirror or an array of mirrors. The light is then concentrated into a single focal point where an immense amount of heat is generated.
    I hope that this helps to explain what’s going on. Most solar furnaces either face south, or are on a pivot to track the sun for maximum effectiveness.

  2. This architect could have lots of clients in Alaska or maybe Edmonton Alberta. Sounds like a winner to me, and I live in the warm southern part of Canada. Just don’t focus the convergence zone on the hockey rink.

  3. Scott B in Dc,

    “One lawyer complained that he actually lost some hair after being fried in the pool.”

    There is a good joke here but I cannot come up with one!


    I know how you feel! It’s so difficult letting a statement like that slide without some witty response. Unfortunately, my creative juices have failed me today.

  4. tomdarch,

    Why not, out of the goodness of your heart and at your own expense of course, go on a “fact-finding” mission for this blog? You may inspect the Vdara death-ray and report from the field. We would all be most grateful.

    A review of “Sage” would be icing on the cake … so to speak.

  5. Oh, great. Yet another problem to worry about as an architect…

    On the one hand, there are several “curve facade/footprint” buildings in Vegas already. Prominent among them is the Wynn. Looking at Google Earth, it should produce some solar death rays in the afternoon, as it’s concave facade faces west. Eyeballing the reflection lines, the Wynn death ray should cause that sunken fountain in front to boil from time to time. Maybe no one has ever been hit, or maybe anyone who has complained got a personally chauffeured one-way tour of the Nevada desert from Mr. Wynn himself…..

    On the other hand… The Vdara’s concave facade faces exactly south. D’oh! That said, just eyeballing the satellite image, I would guess that the focal point would have been further out from the pool deck – but obviously that’s not the case!

    Part of the issue may be recent improvements in the precision/accuracy of construction. Curtain wall glazing generally isn’t all that flat, and big sweeping curves in buildings generally aren’t that perfect. But over the last 10 to 15 years, with GPS, laser measurements and computer driven fabrication of parts, building construction has been getting “tighter.”

    On the plus side, the path of the “death ray” spot will be predictable, so they could paint the pool deck with a sun dial pattern. On a given date, they will know that the hot spot will follow a certain path across the deck, so they can move the chaises and tables out of it’s path for that day.

    Was this “gross negligence” on the part of the architects? I don’t think it’s clear cut. Also, typical Owner-Architect contracts (such as the AIA standard contract documents) include an element of shared responsibility between the Architect and the Owner – at various stages in the design development, the Owner needs to review the work and sign off, thereby taking on some responsibility. That said, no matter how sophisticated these Owners are, forecasting how sunlight will bounce off a building isn’t exactly a typical responsibility for a building Owner.

    This “death ray” problem is hardly the biggest problem for the City Center development. The real “WTF!?!” there was the huge screw-up on the Norman Foster designed Harmon hotel. The reinforcing steel for the concrete was installed wrong from the 6th through 20th floors, and the separate sub-contractor who was supposed to be inspecting the work has been accused of “falsifying” their reports during that period to cover up the changeroo. The contractors used the old “what was drawn couldn’t be built” excuse, but didn’t sort the problem out on paper. Instead the just went ahead and put incorrect rebar in and poured concrete around it, and supposedly, their “quality control” sub covered it up. Perhaps not surprisingly, the local building department inspectors didn’t catch it either. It was only after a few months and 15 stories of building that someone with the Structural Engineering firm caught what was being done.

    As a result, Foster’s original 49 story design was “truncated” down to only 28 stories. Structurally sound, but way out of proportion with the original overall design – kind of like how a finger that’s been cut down doesn’t look right. It’s too bad – City Center was the first project on the strip to bring top international architects to Las Vegas (Normal Foster for the Harmon hotel, Rafael Vinoly for the Vdara, Daniel Libeskind for the Crystals shopping area, and several other less noteworthy but prominent designers). It’s too bad that both technical and business problems have made this a potential bad precedent for “real architecture” in Las Vegas.

    While I’m rambling, if you’re in Vegas, one of my favorite chefs, Shawn McClain, opened a restaurant called “Sage” in the Aria Hotel in City Center. He’s responsible for three of Chicago’s best restaurants, a James Beard Award winner (of course) and the menu for Sage looks like a “greatest hits” list from his three Chicago restaurants. If it’s as good as his previous work, you can’t go wrong on that menu. I’ve been looking for any excuse to go to Vegas just to eat there….

  6. Hey, that design might be on to something good … with some modifications.

    Aim it at a solar-thermal generator to generate electricity and / or heat the water.

  7. “One lawyer complained that he actually lost some hair after being fried in the pool.”

    There is a good joke here but I cannot come up with one!

  8. Unintended consequences … one would think this sort of thing would have been anticipated by a competent architect

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