Fact-checking website Snopes (also known as the internet’s first fact-checking website) has now been debunking Urban Legends and setting the record straight when it comes to “questionable” and/or fantastic stories for 23 years. In its two decades of operation, it has amassed not only thousands of well-researched explanations to perplexing myths but has also garnered the praise of news outlets like The New York Times, CNN, and Forbes. So what can Snopes tell us about our dear profession? Get your facts right with our list of dubious (and some not-so-dubious) claims about architecture, buildings, and city design.
Tragic but true, Toronto-based lawyer Garry Hoy faced an untimely death in 1993, as he demonstrated the strength of the windows of the 24th floor of the Toronto-Dominion Bank Tower building to a group of visiting law students. Quite confident about his much-rehearsed stunt, Hoy threw himself at the glass panes only to bounce back safely as the amused crowd looked on, but the second attempt quickly turned to panic as the man crashed through.
— Matthew Dalton (@DJMatthewDalton) February 6, 2014
We’ve all seen this peculiar half-toilet making the rounds on social media, haven’t we? Shared and reshared during February 2014 and purported to have been spotted in Sochi, Russia, this #EpicFail came to be associated with the Winter Olympic’s rickety sports facilities. But as it turns out, the half-toilet had nothing to do with Sochi—it existed as a photo (with no traceable origin) on the internet long before the Olympic’s opening! For all we know, it could easily be a photomanipulation or even an artwork.
Thanks to slippery copyright laws, this rumor is surprisingly true! Taking pictures of the Eiffel Tower itself is legal because the design of the 129-year-old structure is now in the public domain, but the more recent light show is considered an artwork protected by copyright, and thanks to France’s laws on freedom of panorama, therefore illegal to photograph for commercial purposes. Although the French government isn’t particularly strict about the law, you might want to think twice!
— Kev Viggor (@MugToby) December 30, 2017
Recently, a photo of a vintage box of the “cleanest-whitest-best” decorative snow called “Asbestos: Pure White Fireproof Snow” was widely circulated on social media, causing many to question whether asbestos was actually used to manufacture the fluffy, harmless-looking product. Turns out that this deadly carcinogen, apart from being a “miracle material” in the building industry, was used freely in Christmas tree decorations in the early 20th century. To this day, asbestos isn’t exactly banned in the US!
An over-abundance of restrooms, spacious hallways, and dozens of ramps instead of stairs or elevators—all in a massive building located close to a cemetery. Sounds more like a hospital than a military office building, doesn’t it? But as Snopes reveals, the Pentagon in Virginia was never meant to be a hospital: the bathrooms came about as a result of racial segregation laws at the time, while the rest of the architectural features were for pure practicality or cost-effectiveness. Conjectures also arose regarding the use of the building after WWII and among other suggestions, turning it into a hospital was one of them.
In the Spanish city of Salamanca stands Catedral Nueva which dates back to the 16th century and surprisingly features a fine carving of an astronaut. It is no mystery, however: the cathedral underwent rigorous restoration in 1992 and a cathedral builder named Jeronimo Garcia simply left behind an astronaut to mark his work. This way, not only his name, but the period of restoration was literally set in stone—the astronaut being chosen specifically as a symbol of the 20th century.
Giant replicas of well-loved books do indeed adorn the facade of Kansas City Library’s parking garage. Far from being a photomanipulation, the “Community Bookshelf” lines the garage built in 2006, where twenty-two “books” up to 25 feet tall display popular titles chosen with the help of community input. Here, you will find Marquez, Dickens, Tolkien, Mark Twain, and many others!
It isn’t often that construction schedules go awry because of water gushing in from a man-made marina, but in the case of the construction of the helical, 75-story Infinity Tower (now known as Cayan Tower) in Dubai, it’s unfortunately anything but a rumor. During February 2007 the wall holding back the waters of the Dubai Marina cracked and split, completely flooding the site within minutes, while over a hundred workers scrambled to safety.
Does Washington DC have no ‘J’ street because city designer Pierre L’Enfant bore a grudge against Chief Justice John Jay?
It is hard to believe that Pierre L’Enfant meticulously planned the whole of Washington DC and somehow forgot about the street lettered ‘J.’ But while it was a deliberate omission, a closer inspection reveals that it had nothing to with any grudges against Chief Justice John Jay. The reason, in fact, was quite plain (and boring!): in Old English, the letters ‘I’ and ‘J’ were often interchangeable, similar-looking, and hence confusing especially when written together, so out of the two, ‘J’ was left out of the lettering system.
In December 2003, artist Monica Bonvicini installed a rather interesting work at a busy construction site across the Tate Britain in London: a public toilet with reflective glass walls that allowed the user to look out, while no passersby could look in. Titled “Don’t Miss a Sec,” the installation, like much of Bonvicini’s other work, played on the viewer’s gaze, ideas about space, and the user’s relationship with the surrounding site or environment.
In 2007, an email comparing the houses of former Vice President Al Gore and (now former) President George Bush created quite a stir by describing the former’s house as “an inconvenient truth.” Reports revealed that Al Gore’s extravagant Nashville mansion was actually an energy-guzzler compared to the George W Bush’s “model of environmental rectitude”! However, while (mostly) true in 2007, by 2009 the claims of the email were deemed out-of-date, with Bush moving to a new home twice the size and Gore altering his home until it was LEED-certified.