6 terrible construction projects we're kind of glad were never built

Go home Lenin, you're drunk. Image: commons.

Through history, many architects' renderings of the things they'd like to build have been outlandish, and many more never came to fruition. But there are a few so outrageous and unlikely that they stick out, even from the pile of tree-studded mile high towers and buildings shaped like animals or wicker baskets.

So, to make you feel better about that new block of flats proposed on your road, here are some of the worst. 

London's pyramid of death, designed 1829

In the mid-imperialist flush of the 1800s, a Londoner named Thomas Wilson decided it was about time the city had its very own Egyptian-style pyramid mausoleum, perched atop Primrose Hill (the highest point in the city). It was to be "sufficiently capacious to receive 5,000,000 of the dead". 

Everyone else thought this was a terrible idea, and they built a normal cemetery in Kensal Rise instead. 

Phare du Monde ("Lighthouse of the World"), 1937  

This was due to be an observation tower at Paris's 1937 World Fair (tagline: "Pleasure Tower Half Mile High"). It would have been (you guessed it) half a mile high, with a restaurant, sun lounge and beacon at the top, and a bizarre spiral road channelling cars up to a parking garage at the top of the tower.

Image: Newspaper advertisement, 1937.

Eugene Freysinnet, the tower's designer, estimated that the tower would cost $2.5m to build (still only $42m when you adjust for inflation). The city, meanwhile, calculated that $25m (that's $420m in today's money) was probably a more accurate estimate, and showed him the door. 

Alain de Botton's atheist temple, 2012

OK, so this one could still technically be built – but de Botton has gone very quiet on the idea since he first proposed in 2012 that a skyscraper-esque temples to atheism should be built in London, with more to follow worldwide. The mock-up looks a bit like something out of a Batman film: 

Image: Photograph: Thomas Greenall & Jordan Hodgson.

Its 46 metre height would represent the age of the earth (4.5bn years), with a single band of gold around the bottom representing how long mankind's been around. It isn't clear what the building would actually be used for; we're guessing just lots of sitting around, not thinking about god. Which is exactly what we should be doing with the few remaining metres of space in London, of course. Nobody needs houses. There are already loads of houses. 

Hitler's town hall, 1939

This giant dome, the "Volkshalle" was dreamt up by Hitler to act as the centerpiece of Germania, the utopia he was planning to build. It was such a terrible plan that even the guy who designed it admitted the noise inside, bounced around by that dome, would probably deafen people. He also predicted that the dome would collect precipitation, causing it to occationally rain indoors. 

Image: German Federal Archives. 

When they built a test block of concrete to see if Berlin's soil could support it, it sunk, but the ever-optimistic Herr Hitler decreed that the plans would go ahead anyway. Luckily, the war happened, so the noisy, rainy, sinking dome was never built. 

The palace of the Soviets, 1931

In 1931, the Soviet government held a competition to design a giant palace dedicated to itself. The only criteria? It had to be visible anywhere in Moscow. The final design, topped by a 100m statue of Lenin, basically looks like the giant wedding cake of a man who is marrying himself: 

The cathedral on the proposed site was demolished, and construction began, only to be halted when the steel from the foundations was ripped out for use in the war effort. Eventually, the plans were abandoned, and in 1958, the site was turned into the world's largest open-air swimming pool. 

The euthanasia rollercoaster, 2010 

Image: Julijonas Urbonas.

OK, this one was more of an art project than an actual planned structure. But it's so horrible we couldn't bear to exclude it. From the website of the designer, Julijonas Urbonas:

Riding the coaster’s track, the rider is subjected to a series of intensive motion elements that induce various unique experiences: from euphoria to thrill, and from tunnel vision to loss of consciousness, and, eventually, death.

Read that again:

Eventually, death.

Lovely.

Oh, and if you're lucky enough to somehow survive the coaster's corkscrew bends:

You would soon recover from G-LOC (g-force induced loss of consciousness), remaining unconscious, and your body would flail around in a chaotic fit that is called "funky chicken" in aeromedical slang, as the neurons in the brain – replenished with extra oxygenated blood pumped harder from the heart – begin firing once again. This causes arms and legs to twitch uncontrollably.

 

Anyway, next time you think about writing a furious letter to the planning department, relax. At least it's not a pyramid full of dead people, or a car park in the clouds. 

 
 
 
 

More than 830 cities have brought essential services back under public control. Others should follow

A power station near Nottingham: not one owned by Robin Hood Energy, alas, but we couldn't find anything better. Image: Getty.

The wave of cities worldwide rejecting privatization is far bigger and more successful than anyone thought, according to a new report from the Transnational Institute, Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation. Some 835 cities in 45 countries have brought essential services like water, energy and health care back under public control.

The persistent myth that public services are by nature more expensive and less efficient is losing its momentum. Citizens and users do not necessarily have to resign to paying increasingly higher tariffs for lower standard services. The decline of working conditions in public services is not an inevitability.

And the ever larger role private companies have played in public service delivery may at last be waning. The remunicipalisation movement – cities or local authorities reclaiming privatised services or developing new options – demonstrates that cities and citizens are working to protect and reinvent essential services.

The failure of austerity and privatisation to deliver promised improvements and investments is part of the reason this movement has advanced. But the real driver has been a desire to meet goals such as addressing climate change or increasing democratic participation in service provision. Lower costs and tariffs, improved conditions for workers and better service quality are frequently reported following remunicipalisation.  Meanwhile transparency and accountability have also improved.

Where remunicipalisation succeeds, it also tends to inspire other local authorities to make similar moves. Examples are plentiful. Municipalities have joined forces to push for renewable, climate-friendly energy initiatives in countries like Germany. Public water operators in France and Catalonia are sharing resources and expertise, and working together to overcome the challenges they meet.

Outside Europe, experiments in public services are gaining ground too. Delhi set up 1,000 Mohalla (community) clinics across the city in 2015 as a first step to delivering affordable primary health care. Some 110 clinics were working in some of the poorest areas of Delhi as of February 2017. The Delhi government claims that more than 2.6m of its poorest residents have received free quality health care since the clinics were set up.


Local authorities and the public are benefiting from savings too. When the Nottingham City Council found out that many low-income families in the city were struggling to pay their energy bills, they set up a new supply company. The company, Robin Hood Energy, which offers the lowest prices in the UK, has the motto: “No private shareholders. No director bonuses. Just clear transparent pricing.”

Robin Hood Energy has also formed partnerships with other major cities. In 2016, the city of Leeds set up the White Rose Energy municipal company to promote simple no-profit tariffs throughout the Yorkshire and Humberside regions. In 2017, the cities of Bradford and Doncaster agreed to join the White Rose/Robin Hood partnership.

Meanwhile, campaigners with Switched on London are pushing their city to set up a not-for-profit energy company with genuine citizen participation. The motivations in these diverse cities are similar: young municipal companies can simultaneously beat energy poverty and play a key role in achieving a just and renewable energy transition.

Remunicipalised public services often involve new forms of participation for workers and citizens. Remunicipalisation is often a first step towards creating the public services of the future: sustainable and grounded in the local economy. Inspiration can be found in the European towns and villages aiming for 'zero waste' with their remunicipalised waste service, or providing 100 per cent locally-sourced organic food in their remunicipalised school restaurants.

Public services are not good simply because they are not private. Public services must also continuously renew themselves, grow, innovate and recommit to the public they serve.

The push for remunicipalisation in Catalonia, for example, has come from a movement of citizen platforms. For them, a return to public management is not just an end in itself, but a first step towards the democratic management of public services based on ongoing civil participation.

Evidence is building that people are able to reclaim public services and usher in a new generation of public ownership. The momentum is building, as diverse movements and actors join forces to bring positive change in communities around the world.

You can read the Transnational Institute report, “Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation”, on its website.