#3. The Phare du Monde: A Giant Spiral Tower You Can Drive On
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.
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.
#2. 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."
#1. Crystal Island: The Biggest Tent on Earth
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.