#3. The Sydney Opera House Was Almost a Bunker
The Sydney Opera House, sitting by the water with the Harbor Bridge stretching behind it, is a view that defines both Sydney and Australia. However, it's through sheer luck that it even exists, because by all rights the Opera House, which looks like this ...
... should have been this:
Truly, this is a much more relaxing view.
Sydney held a competition in 1956 to design the opera house, and the Art Deco gulag pictured above was the design that the judges had selected. However, one of the judges, Eero Saarinen (the designer of St. Louis' Gateway Arch), showed up late. Rather than apologizing for his absence, Saarinen insisted on participating in the judging and went through every item in the reject pile one by one, coming across the iconic sail/shell design we're all familiar with in the form of some rough sketches from an unknown Danish artist named Jorn Utzon, who had never even been to Australia, let alone seen the proposed site.
Saarinen held up this entry to the rest of the panel and insisted that it was the winner until everyone agreed with him, because evidently tardiness was just the prelude to his dickitry.
The Sydney Harbor Bridge was built a few decades later, but endured a similar identity crisis. It almost looked like this:
"No, don't dismiss it so quickly. You haven't even seen it spin yet!"
In 1922, plans for the gargantuan three-way bridge pictured above were drawn up, featuring a 500-foot war memorial in the center that looked like a bunker Magneto would use to launch asteroids. Initially, a steam-powered cable car system was proposed back in 1871, which you may recognize as being a less-ambitious version of the gondola ride from Busch Gardens.
"Guys, I told you I needed a bigger push. Guys?"
It was never constructed, for obvious reasons (it was horrible and stupid).
#2. Baghdad Was Almost Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
Baghdad has a number of famous buildings, including the Monument to the Unknown Soldier, the National Museum of Iraq, and the Republican Palace (made famous by Hot Shots! Part Deux). However, the task of building virtually the entire city was nearly placed in the hands of Jetsons-style architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Back in the 1950s, King Faisal II of Iraq had suddenly become boutonniere-deep in oil wealth, and he wanted to display the newfound prosperity of his country by way of grand architecture. So, he brought in a group of leading Western architects (including Wright) for a variety of projects he dubbed the "Plan for Greater Baghdad." In Faisal's eyes, Wright's plans turned out to be the greatest (a word here meaning "The most like Lost in Space storyboards").
Wait, is that a design for a city or a watchmaker's workbench?
Faisal gave Wright an entire island in the center of the city to build on, which Wright promptly renamed "The Isle of Edena," because Westerners do things like that when surrounded by Muslim culture. He drew up plans for an opera house, several museums, a broadcasting station, numerous shops, and even a citrus garden, totaling a construction cost of $1.4 billion (almost $12 billion today). The following video gives a short tour of what could have been done with all that cabbage:
The jewel of the Isle of Edena would have been a giant 300-foot statue of the king Harun al-Rashid, looking for all the world like Poseidon astride the top layer of a giant undersea wedding cake:
Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
Giving Lady Liberty the finger while pointing at his own dick.
But just a year after the plans were drawn up, King Faisal and the majority of his family were assassinated in a coup, and Wright's enthusiastic ideas were never realized. A lengthy period of instability followed, during which architecture was not a priority, until a new leader by the name of Saddam Hussein took over and embarked on some daffy construction projects of his own.
#1. Washington, D.C.'s Lincoln Memorial Was Almost a Huge Aztec Pyramid
National Archives via Online.wsj.com
See the tiny figure at the top of that imposing pyramid? That's a statue of Abraham Lincoln.
Iconic memorials and historical government buildings are Washington, D.C., as far as most of the world is concerned. The Lincoln Memorial is perhaps the most famous, with its giant Abraham Lincoln statue staring pensively down at visitors as if stifling a defeated sigh over how comparatively little any of them do with their time.
"I know what you did."
But the Lincoln Memorial came within months of looking like the pyramid thing above, which appears to be a tribute to the time he conquered the Aztecs in some opium-laced fever dream. The pyramid design was specifically commissioned by the Lincoln Memorial Commission, and they argued about it for three months before they finally decided against it.
Evidently the memorial commissions in Washington did this sort of thing all the time -- years later, a 200-foot geyser memorial to Teddy Roosevelt was initially proposed before the plans were scrapped in favor of the Jefferson Memorial, a move we are stunned did not lead to several haunted scrotum punchings at the hands of Roosevelt's poltergeist.
The Washington Monument went through several strange iterations as well. What would eventually become the obelisk we know and love ...
There is no joke to be made here.
... almost went with a pyramid design not entirely dissimilar from the early Lincoln Memorial plans, because apparently pyramids were the tits back in those days (although judging from this picture, Washington's was clearly meant to host midnight goth poetry readings).
Via Capital Drawings
"Don't throw that sketch away if it's rejected. We'll use it as storyboard for The Crow."
Another rejected plan would have put a giant, terrifying statue of George Washington on top of a huge looming monument meant to terrify the citizens into submission:
"I also know what you did. You cannot escape your forefathers."
D.C. was not yet out of randomly terrible construction ideas, though. In a bold effort to rip a hot dog fart in the face of all the history surrounding it, the White House nearly had a 300-foot-long marble couch and a gigantic widescreen TV built in front of it back in 1995.
Via National Building Museum
"Bring up the Playboy Channel. I mean, if we're going to shit on the thing like this, we might as well go all the way."
The idea was to give citizens a way to get together and speak to the president via videoconferencing (as well as seriously confuse future archaeologists), but it was eventually decided that this was one of the worst public installations ever conceived, so a few colored paving stones and some trees were put in instead. It's too bad, because a giant image of the president's face booming talking points to rapt citizens would have meant that that old Apple commercial would finally have come to life.
N Christie is currently traveling the world to determine once and for all what the Seven Wonders of the World really are.