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. 

 
 
 
 

The Fire Brigades Union’s statement on Theresa May’s resignation is completely damning

Grenfell Tower. Image: Getty.

Just after 10 this morning, Theresa May announced that she would resign as Britain’s prime minister on 7 June. A mere half an hour later, a statement from Royal Institute of British Architects president Ben Derbyshire arrived in my inbox with a ping:

“The news that Theresa May will step down as Prime Minister leaves the country in limbo while the clock ticks down to the latest deadline of 31 October. While much is uncertain, one thing remains clear – a no deal is no option for architecture or the wider construction sector. Whoever becomes the next Prime Minister must focus on taking the country forward with policies beyond Brexit that tackle the major challenges facing the country such as the housing crisis and climate change emergency.”

I was a bit baffled by this – why would the architecture profession try to get its thoughts into a political story? But then Merlin Fulcher of Architects Journal put me right:

Well you know construction is a larger contributor to GDP than financial services, and most of the work UK architects do is for export, and at least half of the largest practice (Foster + Partners) are EU, so there's a lot at stake

— Merlin Fulcher (@merlinfulcher) May 24, 2019

So, the thoughts of the RIBA president are an entirely legitimate thing to send to any construction sector-adjacent journalists who might be writing about today’s big news, and frankly I felt a little silly.

Someone else who should be feeling more than a little silly, though, is Theresa May herself. When listing her government’s achievements, such as they were, she included, setting up “the independent public inquiry into the tragedy at Grenfell Tower” – a fire in a West London public housing block in June 2017 – “to search for the truth, so nothing like it can ever happen again, and so the people who lost their lives that night are never forgotten”.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, is having precisely none of this. Here’s his statement:

“Many of the underlying issues at Grenfell were due to unsafe conditions that had been allowed to fester under Tory governments and a council for which Theresa May bears ultimate responsibility. The inquiry she launched has kicked scrutiny of corporate and government interests into the long-grass, denying families and survivors justice, while allowing business as usual to continue for the wealthy. For the outgoing Prime Minister to suggest that her awful response to Grenfell is a proud part of her legacy is, frankly, disgraceful.”

A total of 72 people died in the Grenfell fire. At time of writing, nobody has been prosecuted.

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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