Login or Register

Sign in with Facebook

Architectural design frequently straddles a fine line between dignified inspiration and asshole lunacy. What's surprising is how close examples of that second type regularly come to being built, regardless of how obviously insane and/or impossible they are. Like ...

Freedom Ship: The Giant Floating City


The Freedom Ship -- taller than New York's Flatiron Building (the building used as The Daily Bugle in the Spider-Man movies), wider than two football fields, and almost a mile in length -- was designed as a floating city to take 100,000 residents, crew, and visitors on an everlasting voyage around the world. Luckily, no part of that sentence sounds completely insane, so you can head on over to the Freedom Ship's official website right now and make an official investment.

However, if you want to buy a residential unit on this floating commercial park, you can expect to pay anything from $150,000 to $10 million for the privilege (we assume the $150,000 homes are windowless utility closets next to the engines). Freedom Ship would have a multimillion-dollar hospital, a complete K-12 school system, a freaking subway system, landscaped parks, and an indoor rain forest, because we apparently learned nothing from the harsh lessons of the Rainforest Cafe. The designers insist that their brainchild is "not a cruise ship, but a fascinating and unique place to live, work, retire, vacation, or visit."

"And also, a cruise ship."

To keep its inhabitants safe from pirates, Freedom Ship would house a 2,000-strong security force armed with "state-of-the-art defensive weapons" to enforce the law of whichever nation the ship ultimately decided to sail under -- possibly a European country, but they were apparently leaning toward Panama, because Panama would basically allow them to do whatever the hell they pleased. Each deck of the ship would hold democratic elections for representatives, but final ultimate rule would be placed in the hands of the captain, because there has been absolutely no historical precedent of a system like that going horribly wrong.

"And that's how the 'Naked Fridays (except for fatties) Amendment' was passed."

So it's essentially the Axiom, that big spaceship from WALL-E, only lurching through the ocean like a dead whale instead of floating at the edge of some distant galaxy. It received generally positive worldwide press coverage, and the Discovery Channel even devoted an entire program to it in 2002 (this was back before Discovery Channel devoted entire programs to ghosts and motorcycles, so that distinction actually meant something). Thousands of residential units had been sold by the time the Freedom Ship got the go-ahead to begin construction in 2001, but ballooning costs (from a naive $6 billion in 1999 to a much more soberingly realistic $11 billion in 2002) effectively stalled the project. Despite insisting that the Freedom Ship is still very much in development, the designers have yet to hammer a single rivet in over 10 years.

The Elephant of Revolutionary Oblivion

Aquarelle de Jean-Antoine Alavoine

At the peak of his power, Napoleon decided to build an enduring symbol to commemorate all of his successes in France and abroad. For some reason, he commissioned a giant bronze elephant instead.

Because nothing says "success" like a herculean elephant.

The heroically named Elephant of Revolutionary Oblivion was to be built on the site of the Bastille, where the French Revolution more or less officially began. Visitors could access it from an internal stairway and enjoy a panoramic view of France's capital city from a tower on the elephant's back. The whole thing would be set in the middle of a giant fountain, with water flowing up and out from the elephant's trunk, because apparently that was the greatest symbol of national pride that Napoleon could be bothered to come up with.

Augustus Charles Pugin
"Then he kept asking us to make the trunk 'thicker' and 'longer'; it was kind of creeping us out."

Bafflingly, this was not the first giant elephant structure to be proposed in the nation of France.

Now, as any blue-collar construction foreman worth his salt can tell you, an eight-story elephant would require a whole lot of bronze, but not to worry -- Napoleon had that shit figured out. The Elephant of Revolutionary Oblivion would be constructed entirely of metal wrought from hundreds of melted-down cannons captured from the enemies of France. That's like Jean-Claude Van Damme making a giant photomosaic of an elephant out of pictures of all the faces he's kicked.

Unfortunately, that turned out to be the problem. You see, France was still at war, and Spain didn't seem like it was going to give up anytime soon. Being the legendary military strategist that he was, Napoleon ultimately decided that all those cannons would be better served lobbing death balls at the enemies of France rather than being made into a giant elephant. So a plaster version of the Elephant of Revolutionary Oblivion was built instead, which quickly began to decay and become infested with rats and weeds, because that's what happens to giant glorified pinatas when you leave them unattended in the middle of a densely populated city with a notoriously poor sewage system.

It was eventually torn down in the mid-19th century, but not before Victor Hugo immortalized it as a home for disenfranchised street urchins in Les Miserables.

Universal Studios
In a world where Russell Crowe is allowed to sing, this suddenly isn't as colossal of a failure.

Continue Reading Below

A Man-Made Mountain

Hoffers and Kruger

Dutch journalist Thijs Zonneveld wrote a light-hearted article on creating a man-made mountain for his home country and was surprised to find himself being taken seriously by like-minded engineering groups, architects, and sporting associations who all felt that the Netherlands' lack of mountains was unacceptable. So they did what any group of eccentric rich people sharing a single impossible idea would do and decided to try to build one, despite the fact that the Alps (which are real, actual mountains) are only a few hundred miles away.

Their proposed amusement-park-style acropolis would stand 6,560 feet high (the equivalent of four Sears Towers standing on each other's shoulders like the Little Rascals trying to get into an R-rated movie), loaded with swimming pools, movie theaters, sporting facilities, and its own water supply, all resting atop a hollow base 6 miles wide. So it seems Zonneveld and his friends were less concerned about the Netherlands' lack of natural rock formations and more concerned with its lack of enormous, mountain-shaped shopping malls.

Hoffers and Kruger
"I'm telling you, we need a Victoria's Secret ... for science."

The estimated cost of the project is somewhere in the neighborhood of $410 billion (that's "billion," with a "B"), but we assume they can recoup a good amount of that cost by renting out large sections of the mountain to Dutch supervillains. That is, if they can convince enough people to make the initial investment -- "The Mountain Comes" (its official name) wouldn't be completed until around 2043, and that's if they broke ground on construction tomorrow. That's like asking someone to dump a fortune into a new Disneyland and then telling them they won't be able to ride Big Thunder Mountain for three more decades.

The Phare du Monde: A Giant Spiral Tower You Can Drive On

Popular Mechanics

Although nobody gives two taint-scalding shits about them now, world expos used to be seriously big deals a few generations ago. Paris actually built the Eiffel Tower specifically for a world expo back in 1889, so when Paris was selected to host another expo in 1937, they wanted to outdo themselves. And what tops an iconic thousand-foot metal tower? A 2,300-foot concrete lighthouse, ringed with skeletal condom ribs to make everyone looking at it feel really uncomfortable.

The Phare du Monde -- the Lighthouse of the World -- was designed by engineer Eugene Freysinnet to be placed in the center of Paris, despite the fact that Paris is over 100 miles from any ocean. Freysinnet accounted for that minor geographical detail by making the tower's beacon so bright that it could be seen from fucking England. The top of the tower would house a hotel, a restaurant, a big sunroom, and a giant multi-story garage for approximately 400 cars, because putting all of that weight on the tallest point of a 2,000-foot building can do nothing but succeed. How would anyone get up to that luxurious skybox resort, you ask? Why, they'd drive a winding 3.5-mile road straight up into the sky, of course.

Modern Mechanix
Who knew that's what Europe actually looked like from the air?

That's no exaggeration, by the way -- the Phare du Monde's spiral ramp would have literally been 3.5 miles long. That's the equivalent of 12 and a half Empire State Buildings, just wrapped around the tower like a barbershop pole. Freysinnet's blazingly optimistic estimate for the whole project was $2.5 million, which is less than what it cost to make the Super Mario Bros. movie, even when you adjust for inflation. In the end, the organizers of the world expo wisely concluded that the Phare du Monde would cost way more than $25 million in both fiscal and cultural currency and quietly shelved Freysinnet's proposal, opting instead to build two giant monuments honoring Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.

lisahistory.net, all-art.org
"Oh yeah, this is much better."

Continue Reading Below

Old Man River, the Superdome Apartment Complex


After submitting stone-faced proposals for a giant dome over Manhattan, a pyramid in Toronto, and a floating pyramid with a million residents in the middle of Tokyo Bay, it should come as little surprise that friend of Cracked and crazy architect extraordinaire Buckminster Fuller once suggested that a large portion of the population of East St. Louis be housed within a mile-long artificial moon crater called Old Man River.

In 1971, the community leaders of East St. Louis asked Fuller to come up with something that would help solve the city's struggles with unemployment and poverty, because apparently they hadn't seen enough of the man's portfolio to know any better. Fuller tossed the idea to his feral mind cats and came back with a proposal for a giant concrete barnacle consisting of 50 curved terraces, with space in both the interior and exterior slopes for people to live in perpetual depression. The outside would have played host to thousands of apartments, divided by trees, gardens, and bitter resentment, whereas the inside would be packed with facilities like schools, tennis courts, supermarkets, and a baseball diamond. The only possible explanation for designing such a starkly dispiriting person hive was that Fuller had misunderstood the community's request and created something that would concentrate the entire population of East St. Louis' poor into a single floodable location.

John Loengard/Time Life Pictures
What the buck, mister?

Speaking of which, to keep the residents from drowning during the first heavy rainfall, Fuller designed an immense transparent umbrella 1 mile in diameter and 1,000 feet high to be mounted above Old Man River. Was the umbrella geodesic, you ask? This is Buckminster Fuller we're talking about -- you're goddamned right the umbrella was geodesic.

The end result being the most elegant and inspiring structure in human history.

Believe it or not, the community leaders loved the idea of packing their destitute masses away inside a big inverted nipple, and it was given positive attention by the local media. Remarkably, it was Fuller himself who put the brakes on the project -- Illinois politicians had offered to help secure government funding, but Fuller didn't want to accept any money that would have him beholden to the federal government. Instead, he wanted the funding to come from the community itself, which as you may remember consisted of the jobless, poverty-stricken unfortunates of East St. Louis. Needless to say, they were unable to come up with the cash, and Fuller moved on to more feasible projects, like building giant floating geodesic sphere-cities for people to live among the clouds.

"My madness cannot be contained by your 'rules' of gravity."

Crystal Island: The Biggest Tent on Earth

Foster and Partners

For the past five years, Russia has been dreaming of building a tent the size of the Empire State Building in the middle of Moscow, because it is cold and sad in Russia, and sometimes big dreams are all you've got.

That wizard temple in the picture is Crystal Island, which was approved for construction by Moscow city planners in 2008. Standing 1,500 feet tall and covering five times the area of the Pentagon, it would have been the biggest structure ever built, coming with a price tag of about $4 billion. The sprawling structure would be a "city within a city," containing homes for 30,000 people, an array of retail shops and theaters, and even a school, because if you lived inside a sparkling glass ultra-tent, you'd want to leave it as infrequently as possible. The exterior of said tent would be covered in solar paneling to both generate electricity for the enclosed community and blind the fucking shit out of anyone driving by.

Foster and Partners
If you look closely, you can see little blueprint firemen having to use a mini Jaws of Life.

As we mentioned, Crystal Island got the go-ahead back during the Bush administration, but then the global financial crisis struck and plans for this fortress of whimsy were indefinitely postponed. The project's architect, the impressively named Baron Foster of Thames Bank, went on to build a smaller version of the Crystal Island tent in Kazakhstan in 2010, presumably as part of an effort to repair the country's image after the release of Borat by producing images like these to shatter the film's backwater misconceptions:

AFP / Stringer / Getty
"Bask in the majesty of our nation's pride, rising from the horizon beyond Vassily's shanty."

N. Christie is currently traveling the world to determine once and for all what the Seven Wonders of the World really are.

Related Reading: Still haven't scratched your crazy building itch? This list of gravity-defying buildings should do the trick. And if you think the items on this list were ridiculous, the mile-high Illinois sky city will blow your mind with preposterousnessosity. And no paragraph full of constructural insanity would be complete without the massive dong tower some guy convinced China to build.

To turn on reply notifications, click here


Load Comments