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I bought a house a couple years ago and, like most new homeowners, have spent a great deal of free time slowly transforming it into a base from where my various schemes and rockets can be launched. And in between trips to that big orange store and discussions with the neighbors about the "character of the neighborhood" and the "aggressive statement" that "actual cannon barrels pointing out windows" makes, I've also spent a great deal of time reading about techniques people have used to disguise buildings.

Leonard J. DeFrancisci via Wikimedia Commons
Look carefully.

It turns out that throughout the modern world there are a bunch of reasons why people have felt the need to disguise the nature and intent of their building. Here then, for you to enjoy on a break from your own volcano-based building, are four of them.

To Conceal Their Ugliness

Electricity doesn't just come from a hole in the wall; there's a whole system of wires tied in very complicated knots required to deliver it to our holes. And the elves that tie these knots together and otherwise make electricity work require special places to live called substations, which are normally jam packed with all sorts of unsightly, angrily humming hardware.

welcomia/iStock/Getty Images
The chainlink fencing does admittedly let in a lot of natural light.

Because these substations are so preposterously ugly, when they're required to exist in neighborhoods where that degree of homeliness can't be tolerated, they're often concealed inside of fake buildings. A great example is in the city of Toronto, where they've concealed electrical infrastructure behind handsome brick buildings ...

Doug Kerr via Wikimedia Commons

... and not-so-handsome houses ...

Wikimedia Commons

... and fairly bangable castles ...

Toronto Star Archives/Toronto Star/Getty Images

But this is standard practice for cities around the world with a lot more than just substations. There are the hidden oil wells of Los Angeles, or the disguised subway vents of Brooklyn (and London, and Paris). Anaheim has built an entire park on top of one of their substations, and Rotterdam has apparently turned one of theirs into a terrifying looking gingerbread house:

Rene1971 via Wikimedia Commons
Fairy tales in the Netherlands are filled with morality stories of children perishing due to workplace safety issues.

Also in Rotterdam, because I guess they have more substations than sense, they hired an artist to cover one of their substations in a high-resolution photograph of the terrain directly behind it. Because who says urban beautification must be incompatible with physical comedy?

To Confuse Enemy Bombers

During World War II, there was concern in the United States that at some point the Japanese would be capable of dropping bombs on the West Coast. Boeing, which was kind of heavily involved in doing the exact opposite of that, was particularly concerned that they would be a target, and naturally took several steps to decrease that risk. "Bomb them faster," was the first and most successful of those steps, but techniques such as "hiding" were also employed. As this was during an age when navigation mostly meant squinting and pointing at things, hiding could be as simple as stringing nets over everything, which indeed is what most potential targets did up and down the coast. But for one factory, Boeing went way, way overboard and ended up building an entire fake town on the roof.

Made of canvas, plywood, and good old-fashioned American deceitfulness, the whole thing spanned several acres, and was, from the air at least, sort of hard to distinguish from an actual town. Not that hard, really, but harder than, say, a ginormous airplane factory.

At ground level, however, it was a different matter.

Either women were taller in the 1940s or something funny is going on here.

These extremely short houses and fences weren't there because Boeing held certain height-related stereotypes about the Japanese and what they might understand to be a normal height for a house. No, it turns out that when looking at things from overhead, a limited vertical scale worked just fine, saved the cost and weight of building full-size houses, and made the annual on-site basketball tournament an exciting, high-scoring affair.

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To Make You Look More Prosperous

The historical tale most commonly attached to the idea of fake buildings is the story of the Potemkin villages. Although probably apocryphal, the story goes that while guiding the Empress Catherine on a tour of the area he was governing, a Russian governor ordered the construction of several fake villages to make the place look more prosperous.

Wikimedia Commons
"Such colors, Gregory! But tell me, is it small or simply far away?"

Although the original story might not be true, the concept of a Potemkin village definitely has been used many times since then. Like in Northern Ireland in advance of the 2013 G8 summit, local authorities pasted pictures of bustling businesses in the windows of completely abandoned shops.

You'll definitely catch the Roadrunner this time, Northern Ireland.

But they're not the only ones, and although perhaps without the high-resolution pictures of cured meat, this same trick's been done in Cleveland, New York, and, for real this time, Russia.

An even larger-scale version of this can be found in the form of Kijong-dong, a fake town built in North Korea. Not being one of the better run Koreas, North Korea decided shortly after the end of the Korean War to waste a colossal amount of resources building a fake city within eyesight of their neighbors. The intent was to deck it out with all the luxuries the 1950s could offer (electricity, sock hops) to seduce South Koreans into defecting. This, shockingly, didn't work at all, though that hasn't stopped the North Koreans from periodically refreshing the ruse by blaring propaganda over loudspeakers or building, why not, a 525-foot flagpole.

Wikimedia Commons
The insane flagpole screams "North Korea!" more than the flag ever could.

This can occur in non-political contexts too. Back in the late 1990s, Enron was still warming up to become the corporate morality tale we know it as today, and at that time had established a small but basically legitimate department that traded energy contracts. But with a group of important analysts scheduled to do a tour of the building, management decided to jazz the place up a bit and built an entire fake trading floor filled with fake traders in front of fake computers making fake phone calls and closing fake trades. The fraud wasn't discovered for years, not until well after Enron went bankrupt. So I guess the lesson is deceit works?

I hate it when that's the lesson.

Benis Arapovic/Hemera/Getty Images
At a minimum, this suggests you're probably justified in periodically snatching phones
out of your co-workers' hands to check if they're making real calls.

To Trick The Man

Most places have various bylaws intended to restrict the types of properties that can be built there. This keeps asbestos mines away from our elementary schools and retirement homes closer to our asbestos mines and is, in that context at least, pretty justifiable. It becomes a little harder to stomach when the laws start preventing people from building a house on land where a house is a totally reasonable thing to have. This is often defended as protecting the "character" of an area, which is usually a code word that the wealthy use, meaning, "Please God, don't let slightly less wealthy people live within eyesight of me."

Allan Danahar/Digital Vision/Getty Images
Bless their bespoke, Egyptian cotton socks.

By far the most notable examples of this seem to occur in the United Kingdom. There, in an apparent effort to preserve mysterious quaintness ratios, local councils have demanded that perfectly lovely little homes get bulldozed.

Charlie and Megs Roundhouse
Nothing causes monocles to fly out faster than seeing a neighbor build a lovely house on their land.

This has resulted in all sorts of attempts by people to creatively get around these bylaws, typically by disguising their houses as something else. Like this couple who built an entire house inside a fake garage. They had permission to build a garage -- that was totally OK -- and even made it look like a garage. But when the local authorities found they were actually living inside, well, that was just one step away from complete fucking anarchy, and down came the hammer.

Cary Ligon/iStock/Getty Images
If this garage is rocking, it's just normal garage stuff going on inside, no need to check or look too closely.

The same deal occurred with this guy who had permission to build a barn and instead made some kind of James Bond penthouse that just looked like a barn. Or the people who turned a pigsty into a four-bedroom house. If it was pigs living there, rolling in shit, sure, fine, whatever. More pigs! But human beings, carefully placing their shit in pipes that take it swiftly away? Totally unacceptable.

But few examples compare to the guy who built a fake castle on his land. Knowing that this was completely not allowed, he hid it behind a 40-foot-tall pile of hay bales. His thinking, if we're being generous enough to call it that, was to try to capitalize on an exemption for people who lived in a structure for four years without anyone complaining about it. So he builds his wall of hay bales, builds his castle behind it, and lives there in secret with his family for four years.

gemenacom/iStock/Getty Images
"All this will one day be yours, son."

Then the four years are up, he takes down the hay, and hey, look at my goddamned castle, neighbors! It turned out, though, that in legal terms, his scheme was "stupid," and the courts ordered the castle torn down, ruling that the local authorities didn't have the chance to object to something they couldn't see. So a sad ending for our maniac, though the fact that an obscenely ugly hay-bale wall was totally acceptable and non-destructive of the "character" of the area suggests a possible happy ending.

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Chris Bucholz is a Cracked columnist and has concealed all sorts of things with hay bales. His first novel, Severance, is incredible and available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Apex Books. Join him on Facebook or Twitter.

For more from Bucholz, check out 6 Things Smartphones Should Be Able to Do by Now and The 12 Most Common Fantasies Teenage Boys Have.

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