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Unbuilt Wonders: Exploring Megastructures That Never Became Reality

Have you ever wondered about the magnificent structures that exist only in the minds of architects? For every gargantuan stadium or stratospheric skyscraper that makes it off the architect's drawing board onto the real-world skyline, there are hundreds that never see the light of day. Perhaps they're too expensive or impractical to build with the available technology of the day. Some were always deemed insane, while others could deserve a second hearing. Join us now as we rummage through the architect's waste paper bin for a look at some incredible mega projects that never happened!


Table of Contents

  • Hyper Building: Cities Made in One Go
  • Crystal Island: Moscow's Futuristic Pointy Ice Palace
  • Shimizu Mega City Pyramid: A Vision for Japan's Challenging Environment
  • The Illinois: Frank Lloyd Wright's Mile-High Skyscraper
  • The Metropolitan Sepulcher: A Victorian Solution to the Cemetery Crisis
  • India Tower: Mumbai's Architectural Symbol for the Future
  • Hotel Attraction: Antoni Gaudi's Unbuilt Masterpiece
  • Hyper Building: Cities Made in One Go

The timeline of human habitation can broadly be characterized as nomadic hunter-gatherers who eventually settled down, discovered agriculture, and built towns, which eventually grew into cities. So, what's the next step? Architect Rem Cool House certainly thinks these integrated cities are the way forward, as seen in his so-called hyperbuilding concept. The proposed site chosen by Cool House's firm OMA for its speculative hyperbuilding was an unused green reserve located on the west bank of the Chaofreya River in Bangkok.

Bangkok was chosen, says Cool House's pitch, because it is a city of crisis—from its traffic to its haphazard development to its politics. Instead, 120,000 people would live, work, and play in one uber-organized utopian megastructure. The hyperbuilding would have six main internal streets with conventional and high-speed elevators linking the upper levels, and a 12-kilometer pedestrian promenade that snakes from the base of the building to its summit.

There's a generous five and a half million square meters of residential space, with an additional 120,000 square meters set aside for restaurants. Museums and galleries would occupy 80,000 square meters. For now, alas, this ambitious hyperbuilding looks set to remain hyperbole.


Crystal Island: Moscow's Futuristic Pointy Ice Palace

Another city in microcosm, this futuristic pointy ice palace from architects Foster and Partners is named Crystal Island and already technically has planning permission. If Crystal Island ever does go ahead, occupying a peninsula on the Moscow River just miles from the Kremlin, it'll be by some way the largest building on Earth by volume and floor space.

Crystal Island's spiraling form creates a tent-like outer structure that's designed to keep out the Russian cold but can open up to provide natural ventilation in summer. It'll incorporate 3,000 hotel rooms and 900 service apartments, plus offices and shops. A 500-student international school and two viewing platforms at different stages up the 450-meter-tall pinnacle.

It'll have at least one IMAX cinema, a theater, museums, and 14,000 underground car parking spaces. In addition to its 2.5 million square feet of floor space, the lines of those natty spirals extend out into a broad landscaped park where inhabitants can play football, boat on a lake, and cross-country ski in wintertime. However, financial backing evaporated after the 2008 financial crisis, never to return.


Shimizu Mega City Pyramid: Japan's Vision for the Future

Japan is a challenging environment to build, being mountainous and prone to earthquakes. With an already outsized population, virgin sites are practically non-existent. Enter the Shimizu Mega City Pyramid, a proposed 2,000-meter-high monster capable of housing three-quarters of a million people out on the water of Tokyo Bay.

Solar panels and algae on the outside would power the many skyscrapers inside. This modern-day citadel would be made of carbon nanotubes capable of withstanding intense tectonic stresses and tsunamis. Oh, and it'll be built by autonomous robots. The name "Shimizu" comes from the company that first floated the idea, a civil engineering firm more noted for its bridges and airport terminals. So, this is most likely a clever PR stunt or perhaps some manner of pyramid scheme.


The Illinois: Frank Lloyd Wright's Mile-High Skyscraper

Frank Lloyd Wright, that titan of American architecture, was 89 years old when he proposed this mile-high, 528-story Chicago skyscraper in the mid-'50s. Its only contemporary rival, the Empire State Building, has just 102 stories. By the way, even now, Wright's tower would be twice as tall as the Burj Khalifa.

When he unveiled his plans to an eager press conference in October 1956, even his schematic drawing was 25 feet tall. Despite its city center location, the mixed-use tower would offer 15,000 parking spaces and 100 helipads, not to mention 76 elevators, each five stories high, traveling at 60 miles per hour. All atomic-powered steel, as opposed to reinforced concrete, was the proposed material. It would have moved around in high winds and caused great discomfort to inhabitants of higher stories. Wright thought his tripod-style structure would have combated this. He would have been wrong.


The Metropolitan Sepulcher: A Victorian Solution to the Cemetery Crisis

Popularity known as the "Death Pyramid," which itself sounds like a banging grunge band, this mooted Victorian monolith was dreamt up to solve a problem that has long bedeviled city planners: Where do we put all the dead people in 100 years? From the mid-18th century to the mid-19th century, London's population surged from less than a million to nearly three and a half million. London's graveyards were already bursting since the time of the medieval plagues, so drastic action to deal with the cemetery crisis was needed.

Entrepreneurial architect Thomas Wilson galvanized Britain's contemporary infatuation with all things Egyptian and proposed a gigantic pyramid-shaped mausoleum that could hold 5 million dead Londoners. It would have occupied 18 acres in Primrose Hill and risen to a then unprecedented 94 stories. A businessman through and through, Wilson reckoned Londoners would pony up £50 per vault. And at the going rate of 40,000 burials a year, his Pyramid General Cemetery Company could rake in about £10 million. Alas, nobody else saw his point.


India Tower: Mumbai's Architectural Symbol for the Future

Mumbai has undergone many radical changes over the past few decades. But despite its meteoric rise in wealth and prominence on the global stage, Mumbai lacks a coherent architectural symbol—one that looks forward rather than backward at its colonial past. Rem Cool House, him again, hopes to combat Mumbai's inevitable boom in Dubai-style identical towers with India Tower, a striking tubular structure with a gap which is actually the lobby halfway up. The sky lobby is an intersection of all paths within the tower, gushes the architect's website, and a panoramic platform for any possible activity to unfold. Sadly, this visionary tower looks set to remain a disjointed fantasy.


Hotel Attraction: Antoni Gaudi's Unrealized Dream in Lower Manhattan

Antoni Gaudi was a Catalan architect most famous for his work in Barcelona, in particular, the soaring majestic church of the Sagrada Familia. His distinctively trippy, colorful, and above all, organic brand of modernism almost made it to the skyline of Lower Manhattan, according to these tantalizing sketches from 1908. Taller than the Empire State, Gaudi's Hotel Attraction was impractical as its designer's vision was uncompromising. To this day, due to its scale and complexity, his Sagrada Familia is still not completed, despite having broken ground in 1882.


Which Unbuilt Megastructure Would You Most Like to See?

Now that we've delved into these incredible mega projects that never happened, it's time to ask yourself: Which of these unbuilt megastructures would you most like to see in real life? Would you choose the hyperbuilding, Crystal Island, the Shimizu Mega City Pyramid, the Illinois skyscraper, the Metropolitan Sepulcher, India Tower, or Hotel Attraction? Let us know in the comments!



The world of architecture is full of ambitious dreams and groundbreaking ideas. For every gargantuan stadium or stratospheric skyscraper that makes it off the architect's drawing board and onto the real-world skyline, hundreds never see the light of day. Some are too expensive or impractical to build with the available technology of the day, while others are simply too audacious for their time. Yet, exploring these unrealized projects gives us a glimpse into the boundless creativity and imagination of architects throughout history.

While it's disappointing that many of these megastructures remain confined to the realms of concepts and designs, they still leave us in awe of what could have been. They challenge our notions of what is possible and push the boundaries of architectural innovation. Perhaps one day, with advances in technology and changing societal needs, some of these visionary projects will become a reality.

In the meantime, let's appreciate the architects who dared to dream big and explore the fascinating stories behind these unrealized megastructures. Their ideas may not have come to fruition, but they continue to inspire and spark conversations about the future of architecture and urban design.



1. Were any of these megastructures ever built? 

No, none of the megastructures mentioned in this article were ever built. They remained as ambitious concepts and designs that never made it to the construction phase.


2. What were the main reasons these projects were not realized?

There were various reasons why these projects were not realized. Some faced financial challenges, such as the Shimizu Mega City Pyramid, which lost financial backing after the 2008 financial crisis. Others were deemed impractical or too ambitious for their time, like Frank Lloyd Wright's mile-high skyscraper.


3. Are there any similar megastructures being built today?

While none of the exact megastructures mentioned in this article are being built today, there are always new and innovative architectural projects taking shape around the world. Architects continue to push boundaries and explore new possibilities in urban design and construction.


4. What is the significance of these unrealized megastructures?

Unrealized megastructures serve as a testament to the creativity, vision, and ambition of architects. They spark discussions about the future of architecture, challenge conventional thinking, and inspire new ideas and innovations in the field.


5. How can we learn more about these unrealized megastructures?

To learn more about these unrealized megastructures, you can explore architectural books, online resources, and documentaries that delve into the stories and designs of these ambitious projects. Additionally, visiting architectural museums and exhibitions may provide further insights into the world of unrealized architecture.

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