Vegas's Vdara focuses sunshine into a hair-singeing "death ray"

MGM's Vdara tower in Las Vegas has a polished, curved mirror surface that focuses a "death ray" of heat onto the pool area that's hot enough to singe your hair and melt your plastic bags.
Chicago visitor Bill Pintas experienced Vdara's "death ray" recently. A lawyer, he was here on business for Preferred Capital Lending, which he co-owns. He also co-owns a Vdara condo.

Pintas told the Review-Journal that at midday Sept. 16, after a brief dip in the hotel pool, he was sunning on a recliner. He was on his stomach, relaxed, eyes closed.

But suddenly, the lawyer became so uncomfortably hot that he leaped up to move. He tried to put on his flip-flop sandals but, inexplicably, they were too hot to touch. So he ran barefoot to the shade.

"I was effectively being cooked," Pintas said. "I started running as fast as I could without looking like a lunatic."

Then he smelled an odor, and realized it was coming from his head, where a bit of hair had been scorched. It was about 12:20 p.m., as best Pintas can recall.

Vdara visitor: 'Death ray' scorched hair (via Super Punch

(Image: Vdara!, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from bcgrote's photostream)


  1. Sounds like someone from Fight Club designed this building.

    We cook your meals. We haul your trash. We connect your calls. We drive your ambulances. We guard you while you sleep. Do not fuck with us.

    1. Oh, there’s no WAY this was an accident. Somewhere in a dark subterranean lair or hollowed-out volcano, an architect is cackling evilly as he strokes a white Persian cat.

  2. I like this part:

    Pintas’ theory is that Vdara’s curved southern wall acts as a parabola to collect and intensify the afternoon rays, which it then reflects.

    Yes, collect and intensify, and *then* reflect.

  3. This story is from Las Vegas Review Journal. You’re going to get sued for copyright infringement by LVRJ/Stephens Media and their evil sidekick Righthaven LLC.

    1. Seriously Cory Doctorow, you need to drop the link because of the Righthaven lawsuits–there is no good reason to encourage the LVRJ to sell their story copyrights to a law firm for the express purpose of suing for copyright violations only after the transgression has occurred.

  4. This reminds me of the twin towers of Century City, high-rise towers of equilateral triangular cross-section, oriented with points facing each other.

    Apparently, no one ever explained the word ‘venturi’ to the architect.

    Who then also placed a fountain on the plaza between the two buildings, in a spot directly upwind on the frequent onshore-flow days.

    It was kinda like walking through the world’s largest carburetor.

    Basic physics, indeed.

  5. There is a mirrored sculpture here in Cinci on the riverfront that does the same thing. In fact the concentrated sunlight is so hot the city posted warning signs to prevent people from moving into the beam. Of course that just exponentially increased the number of kids who stick their hands into the beam or set fire to bits of grass in it.

  6. “..acts as a parabola..”

    While we are being pedantic, I just want to say, it *IS* a parabola, you dolt. Perhaps lawyers should get a more rounded education as well as the architects.

    1. “While we are being pedantic, I just want to say, it *IS* a parabola, you dolt.”

      I’m guessing that the individual windows are flat. It merely approximates a parabola.

      1. Go get your scanning electron microscope. Now find the “flatest” surface you can. Look at it closely and tell me what you see.

        I’ll wait..

        Oh, ah, a bunch of little balls all tightly packed together. Not very flat is it? No, it’s not. Not completely uniform either is it? And in reality neither are those windows. Nor even the most well engineered mirrors humans are able to make. The lesson here is that this is a matter of scale and perception. At a large enough (or small enough) scale the perception of flatness or uniformity tends not to be so important. Ergo, for all intents and purposes the object in question (as a whole) IS a parabola.

        1. “Ergo, for all intents and purposes the object in question (as a whole) IS a parabola.”

          So what you’re saying is that it “acts as a parabola.”

          Hey, I wasn’t the one who wanted to get pedantic.

  7. I’ve stayed at the Wynn once, which is similarly shaped, and seen other buildings with big shiny concave sides, and I always remember the Mythbuster episode with all the flat bits of brass reflecting sunlight towards one point. I then wonder whether the building’s windows reflect and converge (i.e. focus) the sun’s rays with enough gain for perceptible heating. After wondering this for a few seconds, I always guess that the curvature is probably not precise enough for a really high gain at any point, that only one floor would be at the right height to focus sunlight at the incoming angle onto the ground at any time (lower floors during sunrise/sunset, higher floors closer to noon), I notice how “scattered” the reflection of the sun is, etc. So I guessed that this kind of thing wasn’t really possible, as neat as it would be. I suppose I guessed wrong.

  8. Next week they’re going to have Tory Belleci lie in front of it for an hour, and see if he’d actually get “cooked” or merely covered with 3rd degree burns.

  9. Buildings are designed to look good in conceptual aerial views and in model form, because that’s how they’re pitched to investors.

  10. I worked on another building in this project and we ended up producing a series of reflection studies to show how this same effect would impact our building. In the end, there were some very minor changes to ensure this would not be an issue.

  11. There was another case like this where a curved building had a lawn in front, and there was a curved scorch mark across the lawn where the sun fell.

  12. The 600 building in Oracle headquarters in Redwood Shores has an effect similar to this. If you stand in the right place in the parking lot you get a super-dose of sun-glare. No where near focussed enough to burn your or set your hair on fire, but still pretty dramatic.

  13. I’ve been studying the Google Maps satellite photo of this complex. There are several concave / parabolic shaped structures in the area. I would love to see an overlay with their calculated focal points and see if one of them hits the pool area. Also, it would seem that they would have neat acoustical properties as well, similar to the acoustic radar that was experimented with during WWII:

    1. Narddogz,The pool deck is convex, and does not risk having that issue. The NW (Harmon) entrance side was not of concern either: it generally faces more North, and I’d place a guess that any probable hotspot is going to end up somewhere on the big ramping road feature. From my knowledge, there were 2 points of concern. One required a thorough study to check out, and I think that the other only required a brief calculation to determine it had little concern to them.

  14. Wow, okay, never freakin’ mind.

    I am but an ant caught in the path of your highly focused death-ray wit, though at a larger scale ’tis but the bottom of a broken bottle, handled by the mischievous child, or in this example GOD.

  15. Years ago, Analog Science Fiction had a short story about a building like this. The building’s windows were designed to tilt in two axes to maximize solar input (or something like that; it wasn’t a strong story premise to begin with and I don’t understand what tilting the windows would do unless you’re cleaning the ones in your unit from the 75th floor…)

    A Mafia capo and his family are in the penthouse next door, below the building. One day, his family is roasted and he barely escapes death by being just a minute late to the door of his apartment, while his assistant melts his lungs with one breath of superheated gas. Molten-glass time in his penthouse in a manner much like blast-furnace accidents. The investigator thinks, could it be a high-power laser?

    I won’t go on; you can already see where this went.

Comments are closed.