Monday, 5 August 2013

Some Other Unintentionally Hilarious Buildings

I've had another article published by Cracked - The 6 Most Unintentionally Hilarious Buildings Ever Proposed. Not dissimilar to my last one about alternative visions of well-known cities, this one takes a look at buildings that never were. These are seriously proposed, seriously considered, and sometimes almost or partly built constructions that were, simply put, mental.

As with every Cracked article, there was plenty of revision along the way. The six entries used in the final article were arrived at after quite a bit of culling of other suggestions. The following was written out fully as my example entry early on (and was used, in amended form, for my Listverse article on pyramids).

Pyramids of Death

The pyramids of Egypt: incredible feats of constructions from thousands of years ago, built to house the body of the pharaoh in the afterlife. Impressive, yes, but perhaps a little elitist. That was the thought of Thomas Willson in 1829, when he proposed his solution to London’s problem with graveyard overpopulation – a pyramid mausoleum containing the corpses of five million people, that would have been 94 storeys high (by comparison, the Chrysler Building is just 77 storeys). In the middle of London.

Willson thought the idea compact, hygienic and ornamental, and hoped people would come from afar to have picnics and admire it. He also calculated it would bring in a tidy profit of around £10 million in old English money (something like $700 trillion these days). However, one historian described as a “nightmarish combination of megalomaniacal Neo-Classicism and dehumanized Utilitarian efficiency”, which we guess isn’t good, and in the end public opinion turned against it, deciding they would rather have a park than a colossal pyramid of death.

But pyramids of death don’t die that easily. In 2007, a group of German entrepreneurs  unveiled their designs for a 1900ft pyramid to house the bodies of up to 40 million dead people. Oh, and it would be multi-coloured.

For around $1000, anybody could sign up to have, upon their eventual death, their ashes encased in a block, the colour of their choosing. Around ten times the size of the original Great Pyramid, it would have utterly dominated  the neighbouring villages.

Remarkably, the group were given $115,000 funding from German government to pursue it, but since then the idea seems to have faded due to lack of interest and local objection to a gigantic multi-coloured pyramid full of dead people on their doorstep. But don’t worry, if you’re interested, you can still sign up here.

As always, the Cracked editors tweaked and amended my final submission, making it a lot punchier and funnier, and trimmed it for length. The following couple of structures were trimmed from the final version.

The Other French Elephant

Giant public elephants must have been a thing in olden day France. In 1758, in the exact same space that the Arc de Triomphe now stands, architect Charles Ribart proposed an alternative structure - a huge, hollow elephant, accessed via the stomach, with air-con and a drainage system in the trunk. The government declined the proposal.

Which we believe was the direct cause of the French Revolution.

Another man-made mountain

...Remarkably, this is not the first time a man-made mountain has been proposed. In 2009, a 1000-metre-tall mountain was proposed to replace the disused Templehof airport in Berlin. The authorities liked the idea - but in the end have gone for a much more manageable 60-metre mountain instead.

Which is still high enough to ponder the lyrics of Fall Out Boy.

The following never made it as far as draft entries, but were given outlines. They were too far from reality for the editors - the idea isn't quite as interesting if the constructions were never more than the drawings from a crazy guy. The Valid because parts are me trying to justify their inclusion.

Floating Cities

Buckminster Fuller certainly liked his geodesic domes: we see them at the Epcot Centre, the Montreal Biosphere, and if he'd had his own way, as per the previous Cracked article, a giant dome over Manhattan. It didn't stop there. He also envisaged giant floating cities, encased in his geodesic spheres, a mile in diameter.

The surface-to-volume ratios of these spheres indicates the structural weight would only be 1/1000th of the weight of the air inside - therefore heating the air inside by just a degree more than the air outside would cause the city-sphere to float like a hot air balloon.

Valid because: Well, only really because it was Buckminster Fuller making the proposal, as with the original article. It appears to be a genuine proposal, but regarded as something for the future rather than the present.

The Mediterranean might have been drained to create a new country

German architect Hermann Soergel devised a plan to put a dam across the straits of Gibraltar, to generate vast amounts of electricity, and lower the sea level of the Mediterranean by 200 metres. This would create vast amounts of new land for development and colonisation. This actually gained a lot of support from other northern European architects.

Valid because: Sorgel pursued the idea for decades, wrote four books and appeared in around 1000 publications, and had the support of a number of German engineers and architects.

Underground Cities

Concerned about the cost of land in Japan, the government decided a solution would be to start building cities underground. The Taisei Corporation took the government's idea up, and developed "Alice Cities" (after Alice In Wonderland). The plans included shopping malls, offices, and hotels, in 60-metre-high cylinders 110 metres underground.

It wasn't the first time an underground city had been proposed. In the 1960s, nuclear war was a real and scary possibility, that might wipe mankind off the face of the earth. Off the face of it, yes, but not underneath - which is why architect Oscar Newman planned a whole other city, right below New York. How did he plan to create this truly massive hole in which to build a new city? With nuclear warheads, of course.

Valid because: The government themselves suggested underground cities for Japan, as reported in New Scientist. The underground nuclear city was perhaps more speculative, but Oscar Newman was a serious architect and influential city designer.
(Alison Sky and Michelle Stone. Unbuilt America.) 

Linear cities

Cracked has already featured a linear city, Roadtown, but it's far from the only one. The first, in the 1880s, was by Spanish architect Arturo Soria y Mata, for a city 30 miles long and 550 yards, built along a tramline. This later evolved to a continuous city from Spain to Russia, 1800 miles long. In the end, he managed a few miles outside Madrid.

For Algiers, architect Le Corbusier planned a 14 story, 15km long building - with a highway on top. (This is the "wall" in the picture below).

For America, Alan Boutwell and Michael Mitchell planned a gigantic city in a straight line from the west coast to the east, kind of like a giant sweatband. Oh - and it was on stilts.

Valid because: The Spanish one actually went ahead, on a much smaller scale. Le Corbusier  was one of the 20th Century’s most influential architects, and his linear city was an 11-year work, directly proposed to the Algerian government.  The American was proposed seriously but has less in the way of heavy-weight credentials.


  1. Your Cracked article was very interesting, I had no idea that Revolutionary France had a serious infatuation with giant elephants (and I live in France). Google the Chang Building in Bangkok for other elephant-related architecture (Warning: it's shockingly ugly).

    As for the man-made mountain in Berlin, they already have one: after WWII they piled all the rubble into a big mound, which is now a popular area for Berliners to wander around on a weekend and enjoy views of the city. Apparently it does not take much scrabbling around in the dirt to find small chunks of concrete and stone just below the surface.

  2. I Googled it - Teufelsberg. What a weird origin for a hill. I'm sure that must have some place in a Cracked article.

    I'm slowly compiling a list of monumental elephants (probably more suitable for Listverse than Cracked), so I'm familiar with the bizarre Chang building. Another Thai gem is the terrifying Erawan Museum. If you haven't heard of it, Google "Elephantine Colossus" for one of my favourite (now ex-) giant elephants.


  4. For some reason I think of the book Engineers' Dreams by Willy Ley, 1954 I believe, including such goodies as canals from oceans to desert points below sea level in order to generate electricity, and other ecological disasters in the making. I enjoyed the stuff at of course.

  5. I like the sound of it - I've added it my wishlist if it ever goes below £50...

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