How Famous Landmarks Could Have Looked
Check out how these famous landmarks could have looked like!Places
For as long as societies have existed, humans have been building incredible monuments and landmarks. Some of these landmarks have been around for so long, we take them for granted. But not every monument was destined to look the way it does today!
Alternative designs have been pitched for almost every structure you know of; from a goth version of the Taj Mahal to a Mount Rushmore with a woman’s face on it, and even weirdly whacky Whitehouse designs! Let's investigate some of the boldest, coolest, and craziest ways famous landmarks around the world could have turned out.
An Edgy Design
The World’s Fair is an important part of architectural history. When cities host the event, they tend to commission impressive and amazing structures that redefine their skylines.
The World’s Fair is responsible for landmarks like the Seattle Space Needle, Brussels’ Atomium, and Paris’ enormous guillotine! Well, I meant the Eiffel Tower. Though it very nearly was a giant version of that massive, head-removing apparatus!
When Paris landed the host position at the World’s Fair in 1889, the French wanted to commemorate the occasion with a new landmark. Before Gustav Eiffel’s tower design was chosen, however, 700 other designs were submitted for consideration.
One was a giant lighthouse, nearly 1000 feet tall, made of solid granite! Its designer claimed it would also feature lights so bright, nearly everyone in Paris would be able to read a newspaper at night! Imagine living next to that and trying to get some sleep.
The real piece de resistance, though, was this pitch for an enormous guillotine, right in the canter of Paris! The guillotine would commemorate the French Revolution, where the French used one of these deadly devices to dispose of the royal family, and many members of the ruling class.
Though it was never revealed exactly how tall this guillotine was supposed to be, it would have been big enough to make the Statue of Liberty sweat if she ever got on the wrong side of the French people!
A Capitol Chicken!
In many ways, the Capitol Building is at the heart of American democracy. It’s housed Congress for over 120 years, it’s where Presidents are sworn in, and where the laws of the nation are written. But for all that, it almost ended up looking like a fried chicken fast-food restaurant!
In 1792, Thomas Jefferson proposed an architectural competition be held to decide on the design for the then unbuilt Capitol building. Jefferson was an architect himself, so he figured he could pick a design that would please his buddy, and very first president of the United States, George Washington.
But there was an entry that certainly didn’t impress him; this one, from amateur architect James Diamond. While the building itself isn’t too bad, it featured an unfortunate irregularity, at the top.
This sketch is meant to represent a weathervane, and no – it isn’t shaped like a chicken, it’s meant to be a bald eagle. The giant, derpy looking bird didn’t impress Washington, and in 1793 they went with William Thornton’s design, which they thought expressed grandeur and beauty.
Here’s a fun fact for you; when they were deciding what America’s national bird would be, Benjamin Franklin championed the mighty turkey. So, as silly as Diamond’s design looks, it could have been even worse.
L'éléphant de Triomphe
Let’s move back to sophisticated Paris, and no – don’t worry – they weren’t proposing anything crazy like building a giant electric chair in place of the Louvre!
The Arc de Triomphe was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 to commemorate and celebrate France’s many military victories. Well, technically, Napoleon’s many military victories. It was finished in 1836, and now stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of the French people, along with Napoleon’s ego.
45 years earlier, however, a much stranger design was pitched in its place; L’éléphant Triomphal! This absolutely insane elephant monument would have featured a spiral staircase leading into the animal’s belly, along with a complex drainage system so that water would be constantly spewing from its trunk.
While the Elephant would have only stood 33 feet tall – 130 ft smaller than the arch – it would have featured some extravagant interior décor and even a garden! Sadly, the design was rejected by the French Government.
However, Napoleon may have been inspired by the unused design when he commissioned the L’éléphant de Bastille monument, which was sadly never finished. This would have been only 25 minutes away from Moulin Rouge Park which also used to feature a giant elephant statue!
Why was Paris so obsessed with elephants? Well, they were just a late-Renaissance fixation for the French, being perceived as noble and strong. It’s pretty amazing to think that Paris’ skyline could have looked completely different to what it is today! Giant elephants and massive guillotines sound more like some sort of fever dream than a skyline!
The Full Rushmore
Mount Rushmore is dedicated to some of America’s most important presidents. The monument took 14 grueling years to finish, with each face carved out of the mountain by hand and measuring in at a staggering 60 feet. But technically, it’s only half finished.
The project began in 1927 under the supervision of a man named Gutzon Borglum. Borglum was obsessed with the idea of a monument to the great men of American history, and originally, had wanted to include the bodies of the Presidents in the rockface as well! Just in case anyone thought they might be inappropriately shirtless below the neck.
Borglum also planned to include the entire history of America, but Congress eventually scaled back the project, recognizing Borglum was going overboard!
However, after construction began it was pitched that Susan B. Anthony – an important abolitionist and women’s rights advocate – be added to the monument. This idea was so popular that a congressional bill was written to include Susan, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt even wrote to Borglum herself praising the idea.
So, why isn’t Susan on the Mountain today? Well, Borglum was a massive bigot and fought tooth and nail against the idea of any woman featuring on his very manly mountain.
But that wasn’t the only reason. The monument had already taken 14 years to carve out and adding Susan would have extended construction time to 17.5 years. Including all the bodies may have doubled that! If they wanted to include the entire history of America, they may still have been working on it today!
Enigma of the Black Taj
India’s Taj Mahal is one of the most recognizable and beloved buildings in the world, but its pristine marble hides a dark secret. Literally.
Shah Jahan, the once Mughal Emperor of India, was a great lover of grand architecture, and is responsible for some amazing structures, such as the Wazir Khan and likely Aladdin-inspiring Jama Masjid. When his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal died in 1631, Jahan was so heartbroken he commissioned his greatest project yet; her mausoleum.
Built over 22 years, the Taj Mahal is a marvel of engineering, and was constructed to be completely symmetrical down to the tiniest detail. It’s so symmetrical, in fact, that many historians believe the Taj Mahal is incomplete. Why? Well, because there’s only one.
Somewhere between 1640 and 1655, Jahan actually began construction of a second Taj Mahal across the river from the first. This Mahal would have been identical to the first in every way except for one; instead of white marble, it would have been made from pitch black stone.
This would further the beautiful symmetry begun in the original, and Jahan planned to be buried in the dark Taj across from his wife.
Unfortunately, after his passing, Jahan’s children were so preoccupied fighting each other for the emperor’s inheritance that the project was all but forgotten. Talk about having a dark past!
Hashtag Quadruple Towers
September 11th, 2001, was a dark day for New York City. An attack on the World Trade Center devastated both the near 1800 ft twin towers and left a huge mark in American history. It was eventually decided that a new World Trade Center would be constructed not far from the original site.
While SOM’s One World Trade Center design won the honor of being built, the competition was heated, and several alternative designs were proposed.
Foster & Partners, for example, put forward a towering, horrifying, sun-blotting design that has more angles than a geometry class. Shigeru Ban pitched this design, which either looks like an untextured building from a videogame or like Spider-Man has just done a couple of laps around it.
The proposal that takes the cake, however, has to be the Richard Meier & Partners design. The RMP design would have featured not one, not two, but five towers, each over 1000 feet tall.
What’s more, each tower would be connected to the next through a series of skyscraper bridges, making them resemble a series of enormous hashtags. They even admitted this themselves, but argued the sign promotes harmony, stability, and dignity. You can really tell they wrote that before Twitter existed?
When you picture the Lincoln Memorial, what descriptors come to mind? Probably words like “stoic”, “proud”, and “dignified”, right? You don’t think “horrifying”, “imposing”, or “occult”.
Well, that’s because they didn’t go for one of the rejected designs, which are all pretty crazy. One featured a giant, Ancient-Egyptian-looking pyramid, while another was an Ancient-Greek-Parthenon-style building.
The best and scariest rip-off, however, must be the Lincoln Ziggurat. Ziggurats are tiered pyramids made from large steps and trace their origins to ancient Mesopotamia. They also look a little too threatening for a memorial. Imagine the giant Lincoln statue perched on top of this, staring down at you! Not quite as inspiring as it is terrifying!
The Ziggurat appears to be about 100 feet tall – so about the height of a 9-story building - and it would have featured an entrance at the base. What would have been inside was never depicted. Presumably a sacrificial chamber where you could offer your first-born to High Lord Lincoln.
In the end, they went with the much less-ostentatious Lincoln memorial we all know today. It was unveiled on May 30th, 1922, and dedicated by former President William Taft. I’m sure he was wondering when his giant memorial was going to be built the whole time. Sorry Taft, not yet.
Mario Kart Bridge
London Bridge is a beautiful and iconic piece of architecture. For over a century, it’s been one of London’s most enduring and defining landmarks but it's not as beautiful as the Tower Bridge. London Bridge looks more like a miserable, boring slab of concrete.
Don’t feel bad if you ever mixed these two up, as this must be one of the most common labeling mistakes in the world!
It probably wouldn’t happen as much, however, if Tower Bridge had gone with another proposed design. This incredibly unique bridge proposal by FJ Palmer back in the 19th century resembles a fancy figure of eight, but it kinda looks like it’s been plucked straight off a Mario kart track!
So, assuming you don’t have any red shells to contend with while you’re crossing this thing, how would it work? Each loop of the bridge features two retractable sections at either side. This meant that if a ship needed to pass, one section could be retracted, the ship could enter the center of the loop, and then – once the first section was replaced - the other end could be retracted.
This would mean a ship could pass through the bridge without foot traffic ever stopping! While that may seem like a lot of hassle, it’s far more considerate to road users than the current bridge, which grinds all traffic to a halt whenever a ship passes by.
So why was this design rejected? It’s possible it was just too complex. The Tower Bridge we know today took 8 years, 70,000 tons of concrete, 10,000 tons of steel, and 432 workers across five different companies to build. But it’s possible that creating four experimental sliding bridges would have taken even more than that. Although, that’s just a theory.
The Knock-off of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty is one of the most iconic American symbols there is. But what if I told you that this 150-foot-tall lady wasn’t meant to embody America at all? She was actually meant to represent Egypt!
When egomaniac Auguste Bartholdi visited Egypt in 1855, he didn’t feel awe at the country’s wonders. He felt jealous. He took one look at the carvings of Abu Simbel and thought it was only fair he had a giant statue in the country too. For perspective, he once said; “the Americans believe liberty illuminates the world… In reality, it is my genius”.
So, Auguste got to work, eventually designing this statue called Egypt Carrying the Light to Asia. It was an 86-foot-tall statue of an Egyptian farmer on a 48-foot-tall pedestal. It was meant to represent the industrialization of Egypt and is much humbler-looking than the statue of Liberty. It would have had a glowing niqab, though.
It was meant to stand at the Suez Canal, which Egypt had recently finished. The canal is of huge importance to Egypt – even today, thousands of ships pass through it every year, earning the country billions of dollars.
So, why isn’t this Lady of Light there to welcome them? Probably because the country had to take out a high-interest loan of over 1 billion Egyptian pounds to finish the project and didn’t want to cough up for a new statue as well. After all, they’ve already got hundreds!
Annoyed, Bartholdi quickly and lazily repurposed the design. France commissioned it for the equivalent of $6.7 million, before gifting it to America, making the Statue of Liberty. A knock-off re-gift of a monument.
The Whitehouse is one of the most well-known and important buildings in America and has been the home of 46 Presidents and more than twice as many Presidential dogs! Being the seat of power for one of the most powerful nations in modern history, it makes sense that there was some deliberation over the design for the White House.
A competition held and judged by George Washington – that previously mentioned first ever president - eventually landed on Irish architect James Hoban’s design. Don’t tell Washington, but Hoban actually modeled the entire design on Leinster House in Dublin, his hometown.
There were several competing designs that nearly made it through, though!
The boxy design below was submitted by Phillip Hart but wasn’t considered sophisticated or elegant enough for Washington.
Below is a pitch from James Diamond, who you’ll remember from his rejected Capitol design. It’s distinctive, but the staircases are positioned awkwardly far from the building’s entrance.
Founding Father and future President Thomas Jefferson also happened to be an architect, and submitted the design below influenced by classical European architecture.
While Jefferson had no hard feelings about losing the competition, he also couldn’t resist making a few upgrades to the White House while he was President, like building a wine cellar and installing two water closets upstairs. I guess he really did win in the end!
The Burj Khalifa currently stands as the world’s tallest skyscraper, coming in at a staggering 2716 feet and 140 floors. And if that isn’t magnificent enough for you – it almost had a cape!
In 2014, designers Op-En pitched what would have been the largest art installation in the world. Their idea was to wrap the Burj Khalifa – which again, is the biggest building in the world – in a super-light-weight fabric. The installation was to be called EXO-BURJ, with the fabric imitating the Burj Khalifa’s own reflective façade.
From a distance the Khalifa would have theoretically reflected the urban landscape of Dubai, whereas up close it would have reflected the viewer. Fan-shaped support structures would have cascaded down, keeping the material in place. This would have turned the Burj Khalifa into the world’s tallest mirror – which I’m sure all the local birds would have appreciated.
If the Burj Khalifa is 2717 feet tall, and has a width of about 557 feet, this would mean the veil would be equal to 243,668 square feet of material! That’s bigger than two entire Manhattan city blocks!
So why didn’t the Burj become a giant, reflective tube? Well, it may have been pitched at a bad time. In 2014, Burj Khalifa’s management announced they couldn’t even afford to keep air conditioning and elevators running, so giving the building the world’s biggest bridal veil probably wasn’t at the top of their priority list!
The Washington Shrine
The Washington Monument stands today as one of America’s most enduring, elegant and uncomplicated landmarks. Nothing wrong with being simple! But it wasn’t always destined to be so understated.
After architect Robert Mills won a competition to design a monument commemorating America’s founding father, George Washington, he went nuts.
His initial 1836 proposal was this enormous, almost religious-looking structure. At the base was a large, classical-style temple 250 ft in diameter and 100 ft high. From the center a huge 500 ft column would emerge, with a statue of Washington riding a horse drawn carriage resting over the main entrance. So… what happened?
Well, the National Washington Monument Society, who ran the competition, relied on public funds. As it turns out ambitious, unique, and grand projects estimated to cost more than $1 million – roughly $30 million today - don’t mix super well with public funding.
Construction didn’t even begin until 1848 – 12 years after Mills submitted his entry – and in 1856, the money and enthusiasm for the project completely dried up. The Monument sat unfinished for decade after decade before Congress had to step in in 1876, 40 years after the competition began!
By this point Mills was long dead, and maybe that’s for the best. When Congress took over the project, they stripped Mills’ design down to the cheapest thing they could call a finished job. While it stands now at an impressive 555 feet, that’s still 45 feet short of what Mills envisioned.
Well, compared to what it could have been, The Washington Monument today looks more like a Washington toothpick!
Sydney Danger House
The Sydney Opera House is one of the world’s most recognizable buildings. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that its design is distinct, memorable, and totally one-of-a-kind. That’s why it’s so bizarre to learn that not only could it have looked different, but it was nearly the total opposite of the building we know today.
In 1956, the international competition to design the National Opera House was opened, and eventually won by Danish Architect Jørn Utzon. But an American architect named Joseph Marzella came in a close second place with his blueprint. Its brutalist design features sharp angles and invokes a much more powerful and intimidating feel. You know, exactly what you want for the opera!
In all seriousness though, it’s pretty interesting they went with the design they did. Utzon’s entry into the competition was just as bold as Marzella’s, but felt lighter, freer, and more playful.
Life Under Glass
The 60’s were a time of great change in America; music was becoming more experimental, youths were converting to the hippie movement, and mad supervillains were trying to encase cities in giant snow globes. No, I’m not joking.
Meet eccentric architect R Buckminster Fuller who, in 1960, came up with a crazy idea; to build a giant glass dome over Manhattan.
This dome would have been made from wire-reinforced, shatter-proof glass. At its full height, Fuller’s dome would have reached a whole mile into the air and stretched from 62nd Street all the way to 22nd Street, making it 1.8 miles in diameter!
In Fuller’s vision, the dome would resemble a glistening hemisphere of a mirror from the outside. So, what would the benefits be of life under the dome? According to Fuller, it would keep cities a comfortable, regulated temperature all-year round, saving individuals up to 80% on heating.
The city would also not have to pay for snow removal – which fuller claims would have paid for the dome within ten years. While his exact math on this costing is unknown, today New York City pays $1.8 million per inch of snowfall it removes.
Now to be fair to old Bucky, he wasn’t totally nuts; in his proposal he acknowledged the project likely wouldn’t get funding, but that it would be an excellent way to design cities in the future.
Christ the Transporter
Since it was finished in 1931, Christ the Redeemer or Cristo Redentor has arguably become Brazil’s most well-known landmark. The nearly-100-foot-tall statue is known for its warm, open arms, which themselves span 90 feet – that’s almost as long as three school busses!
Because of the statue’s positioning, it looks like Christ is opening his arms wide, ready to embrace the city of Rio de Janeiro below. Surely this is a commentary on Christ’s warm, loving, and forgiving nature? Nope! Originally, Christ was just meant to be carrying a bunch of stuff.
The statue was commissioned by a group of Brazilians who feared, after World War One, that Brazil was at risk of becoming a less god-fearing nation. They viewed the statue as a way to reclaim Rio on behalf of Christianity.
The original design by Heitor da Silva Costa had Jesus carrying an enormous cross in one hand and a globe in the other. While this was probably symbolic of Christ’s morning forearm routine, you’ve gotta admit it looks a lot busier than the final design.
Even people at the time mocked the mock-up, dubbing it the less rousing Christ with A Ball monument. Da Silva Costa eventually teamed up with a man named Carlos Oswald, and together they decided that Christ himself should be the cross. Inspired thinking there.
And there you have it, a little sneak-peek into an alternate world where Manhattan’s under a dome, there’s a chicken on the Whitehouse, and Mount Rushmore still isn’t finished.
If you were amazed by how famous landmarks could have looked, you might want to read this article about how ancient ruins and archaeological sites used to look like.