4 Fake Buildings You Didn't Know Hide Stuff From You

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.

#4. 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?

#3. 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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Chris Bucholz

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