7 Iconic Skylines That Almost Looked Ridiculous
Every city in the world shares the same basic building blocks -- brick, stone, steel, mortar, and McDonald's restaurants -- but architecture is what sets them apart. When you think "Paris," you don't imagine a city, you imagine the Eiffel Tower.
However, either by chance or by design, some of the most iconic cities on the planet almost looked very, very different, like knockoff made-for-cable versions of themselves.
London Almost Had a Giant Dildo Skyscraper (and No Tower Bridge)
London is home to some of the world's most famous historical architecture, including the Tower of London, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and that movie studio where they shot Batman. To continue that grand tradition, a group of functionally rational adults proposed building a 1,400-foot robot clown dildo called the Green Bird in 1990.
"It isn't very green yet, because it hasn't been used."
In their defense, this would have become instantly more famous than any of that other bullshit we just mentioned. The 83-story multipurpose building, which we assume would have had a huge fountain at the top, never got the go-ahead for construction, for some reason. What company wouldn't want to house their corporate offices in the tip of that thing?
Meanwhile, London's third most famous landmark, the Tower Bridge ...
... was almost replaced with this contraption:
For the love of God, it's eating the machines!
The goal of the Tower Bridge's design was to allow both road and waterway traffic to pass through, and while the elegant drawbridge it eventually became may seem like the obvious solution, it managed to elude everyone in the United Kingdom for a while. So one idea was the "duplex" bridge pictured above, which would split in two to allow one road to always be open while water traffic passed beneath it (this is ignoring the fact that both roads stretched over the same waterway).
Another was to dig a tunnel beneath the river, which doesn't seem unreasonable until you consider that this was suggested in 1876, back when a bridge tunnel was exactly as possible as lashing your coach to Pegasus and flying across the Thames.
Just think of how many orphan laborers this project would've claimed.
Paris Was Almost a Dystopian Wasteland
Quick: If you had tons of money and an urge to whisk your lover to the most romantic place on Earth, where would you go? Paris, right? Packed with artful cafes and shops along fashionable tree-lined boulevards, the city has provided the backdrop for countless pieces of timeless cinema such as An American in Paris and An American Werewolf in Paris. Well, Le Corbusier, one of the most influential pioneers of modern architecture, took a look at all that celebrated Parisian charm and decided it was total bullshit.
His proposed solution? Smash Paris to the ground like a GWAR video and replace it with 18 identical 60-story skyscrapers that look like candles on Ayn Rand's birthday cake, then crisscross its paved-over corpse with arterial superhighways.
"And while we're at it, let's fill the river with cement."
It was called the Plan Voisin, hatched in the mid-1920s and backed by automobile manufacturer Avions Voisin, which unsurprisingly was a huge supporter of a plan that called for more roads and was named after itself. The entire area between the river Seine and Montmartre would have been knocked down and filled with a bunch of Blade Runner towers for Parisians to jump off of once they'd seen what had been done to their city.
"Did we lose a high-stakes game of Tetris or something?"
Le Corbusier said of his vision of Paris: "When night intervenes, the passage of cars along the autostrada traces luminous tracks that are like the tails of meteors flashing across the summer heavens." OK, he might have been crazy.
New York City Almost Housed Spaceships
In 1908, American investors approached Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi about building a hotel on the site of the future World Trade Center in New York City. Gaudi accepted, and what he came up with was the 1,181-foot-tall "Hotel Attraction," which looked like the giant starship all of the rich people built to take them off the planet before the asteroid hits.
Holy crap, that thing really is gaud- ooooooh, we get it now.
This Cake Boss version of the Fortress of Solitude would have been the tallest building in the world at the time, featuring a 375-foot presidential memorial hall and decorations made from authentic New York City garbage.
"Welcome to our totally normal not-cult building. Please enter the weird haircut room on your left."
There were plans to put a room inside the star at the top of the tower called "The Sphere of All Space," large enough to hold 30 people while their sanity was slowly devoured. Most of his notes on the project were later destroyed in the Spanish Civil War (a phrase here meaning "when the gateway in his nightmares opened up to reclaim them"). However, the plans were resubmitted in 2003 as a replacement for the World Trade Center, albeit unsuccessfully.
But that's hardly the only example of weird-ass projects that would have utterly changed the face of the city. More recently, Frank Gehry, designer of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, helped us to visualize what would happen if a space colossus took a diamond shit on the East River:
You can almost hear the muffled "blub" sound it makes when it hits the ground.
This was to be the East River Guggenheim, a sprawling art museum, and it had the greenlight for construction from Mayor Rudy Giuliani. However, the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11 and the resulting economic plunge put an end to the project before some Men in Black sequel could build a hackneyed premise around it.
Related: An Architecture Student Once Stopped a New York City Skyscraper from Collapsing during a Hurricane
Toronto Was to Be Dominated by a Huge Pyramid
You've seen Toronto lots of times, whether you know it or not -- Toronto has served as a stand-in for Chicago and New York in movies like Good Will Hunting and True Lies, because it has a similar skyline to those bustling metropolises, but it's cheaper to film in Canada and there are fewer assholes. However, when Buckminster Fuller (one of our favorite batshit crazy architects) was approached to provide an urban plan for the rapidly expanding Toronto back in the 1960s, he suggested that they turn the city into a floating G.I. Joe base instead. This was Buckminster Fuller's "Project Toronto."
"Of course, we'll need a large patch of empty land for the UFOs to dock, but you get the idea."
Describing his role in the project as assisting in "the ballistics and navigation of humanity on spaceship Earth" (an explanation that probably should have led to him being excused from the meeting), his proposal centered around a colossal Crystal Pyramid approximately 450 feet tall with a base wide enough to garage a handful of aircraft carriers. This would effectively narrow the list of things to do in Toronto down to a single item: "Stand outside and look at that godawful pyramid because it blots out everything, including the sun."
Meanwhile, three self-contained neighborhoods (complete with shops, schools, and housing for around 6,000 people) would float offshore in Lake Ontario for reasons that can best be described as "nonexistent," although they could be towed elsewhere, just in case the people of a different waterfront city suddenly decided that floating suburbs were a good idea.
Pictured: The last floating suburb. Also known as "sublurblblblbblrblrb."
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).
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:
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.
Washington, D.C.'s Lincoln Memorial Was Almost a Huge Aztec Pyramid
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).
"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.
"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.