Insane Megaprojects That Were Never Built
They say bigger is better, so why were these megastructures never built? Let's explore a series of rejected plans!Money
For as long as societies have existed, we humans have constantly pushed the limits on designing and creating newer, bigger, and better buildings. But, for all the jaw-dropping structures that we’ve actually erected, there are some megaprojects that, for better or worse, never made it off the drawing board.
From colossal pyramids containing entire cemeteries to a skyscraper that literally hangs from space, let's explore the most insane megaprojects that were never built.
The Great Pyramids of Giza are, arguably, the most famous pyramid-shaped constructs in the world. However, 200 years ago, another prodigious pyramid was almost erected that would’ve rivaled their fame. By the 1820s, London was the most populated city in the world, so, unsurprisingly space was tight.
So tight in fact, that even those in the city’s burial grounds felt the squeeze, with coffins often being laid on top of one another in graves some 20 ft deep! Eventually, it got so bad that old cadavers were being discarded from their resting places just to make room for fresh ones.
So, in the 1820s, architect Thomas Willson proposed a sizeable solution to solve London’s corpse conundrum. He wanted to build the Metropolitan Sepulcher, better known as the London Death Pyramid; a 94-story high granite pyramid burial structure on Primrose Hill in North London.
In all, the bizarre building would’ve stretched almost 1,000 feet into the London skyline, making it around the same height as The Shard, one of the tallest buildings in the UK today. Ugly as that stony cemetery would’ve looked, it definitely would have provided some respite to London’s burial issue, because that thing would’ve housed up to 5 million bodies.
The idea was to fill up the pyramid with around 40,000 bodies annually, meaning in just 125 years, London would be left with a defunct, death pyramid full of corpses. On top of that, the height and opaque material of that superstructure would have undoubtedly blocked out sunlight for anyone unlucky enough to live near it.
Unsustainable and ugly as that megaproject was, the London Death Pyramid would’ve also been costly, with construction estimated to be around £7 million at the time, which today is close to $1.2 billion! So, you won’t be surprised to hear that Willson’s wacky idea never became a reality.
Westminster City Airport
Back in the day, there was a craze for designing questionable megaprojects. In 1934, around 100 years after Willson’s pyramid proposal, "The Popular Science Monthly" publication made designs for a megaproject that would’ve changed the face of England’s capital city forever.
The plan was to build an airport. But, no ordinary airport. One that was situated right next to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. The structure would’ve stretched along the width of the River Thames, and run from Westminster Bridge to Lambeth Bridge, making it about 1,000 feet wide and over 2,600 feet long.
According to the project specifications, the airport would’ve also been high enough to accommodate the tallest ships’ masts, making it roughly 75 feet tall or about 5 ½ stories! Propping up that megastructure were 8 pillars, which also contained elevators to transport passengers from the ground to terminals.
While it’s not documented exactly why Westminster City Airport didn’t become a reality, it doesn’t take a genius to see some serious problems with the proposal. First and foremost, having an airport literally feet away from Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament sounds like an expensive accident waiting to happen.
On top of that, airport runways should be at least 6,000 feet long, over double the distance of the proposed runway. So, unless you enjoy the concept of a water landing, it’s probably for the best that the plans for Westminster City Airport never took off!
Phare du Monde
Turns out that the creative juices were really flowing in 1930s Europe. One year before the wacky Westminster City Airport idea, Frenchman Eugène Freyssinet proposed a building that would’ve dominated the Parisian skyline. Picture a screw, flip it upside down and you’ve got Freyssinet’s creation, known as the Phare du Monde.
It was also gigantic. The Phare du Monde would’ve been some 2,300 feet tall, making it over double the size of the Eiffel Tower. You’re probably wondering what the artistic explanation for the spiraling screw design is. Turns out that the swirling shape of the Phare du Monde was simply designed to provide cars with drivable access up the tower.
Suitably, at the top of the structure, there would be parking space for 500 cars, along with a restaurant. So essentially, that place was just a half-mile-high diner with one heck of a view of Paris!
And if you were driving back, you could forget about washing your food down with a nice cocktail. Steering down a swirling 2,300-foot descent probably isn’t the best idea if your head’s already in a spin!
If the devilish design wasn’t enough to put people off the Phare du Monde, the price certainly was. In all, it’s believed that the tower would’ve cost about $2.5 million to build. By today’s values, that rises to a more eye-watering $56 million.
Cruise ships offer people the perfect chance to relax in the sun, all while visiting some must-see destinations around the world. It sounds like heaven, but what about boarding a cruise ship, not for a quick getaway, but for life?
As bizarre as it sounds, that’s what American engineer Norman Nixon proposed in the late 1990s. He wanted to build the Freedom Ship, an utter beast of a boat. In all, that thing would’ve measured over 1.1 miles long.
For reference, The Wonder of the Sea, the largest cruise ship ever made, is only about a fifth of the size of that mega-ship. And, if it wasn’t already chunky enough, the Freedom Ship would tower 25 stories high, and was even planned to feature an airport on its roof!
All that space, and the fact that it even has an airport on its roof, did mean that the Freedom Ship could accommodate up to 100,000 people. Plus, with schools, offices, a hospital, a library, and even a duty-free shopping mall, the Freedom Ship was designed to have plenty to keep its thousands of citizens cared for and entertained.
If that wasn’t enough, passengers could simply look overboard and see the sites of the world. That’s because the transportable town was designed to navigate around the globe every two or three years, spending the rest of its time docked on the ports of countries it was passing. Obviously, such a megaproject doesn’t come without a mega cost.
In 2002, estimated expenses for the Freedom Ship had risen to $11 billion. For some perspective, that’s more than 8 times the amount it cost to build the Wonder of the Seas, currently the world’s largest cruise ship! The painful price, and doubts over the workability of a city ship with an airport on its roof, have meant that the Freedom Ship has never set sail.
NOAH: New Orleans Arcology Habitat
Considering that water covers 71% of the Earth’s surface, it’s no wonder that aqua-based megaprojects have inspired designers. One such ambitious architect, by the name of Kevin Schopfer, made grand plans for a soaring structure to be built off the banks of New Orleans back in 2009.
The thinking was that, because most of New Orleans is built below sea level, and right next to the Mississippi River, something needed to be done to stop the city’s flooding issues. The problem was so severe that after Hurricane Katrina, around 80% of the city was flooded.
But, instead of building on higher ground, or improving the city’s flood defenses, Schopfer had a rather more flamboyant solution. He designed The New Orleans Arcology Habitat or NOAH. It’s a 1,200-foot-tall triangular framed megastructure, designed to fuse architecture with sustainability.
He planned the space to fit 40,000 inhabitants, who’d reside in one of NOAH’s 20,000 residential units or 3 hotels. Alongside that, there’d be space for a school system, health care facility, and even casinos. The building was also designed as a pedestrianized environment, with some horizontal areas being fitted with electric train carriers, while vertical commuters would travel up and down via a series of elevators.
But the most impressive thing about NOAH, isn’t its fancy transportation, shops or schools. It’s the fact that the place was intended to be a floating city! A water-filled basin around 1,200 feet in diameter and 50 feet deep, would be constructed on the banks of the Mississippi River.
The foundation of NOAH would then float within the basin, thanks to a multi-cavity hull at the base of the structure. So, in case of flooding, the megaproject could rise above the water! If that wasn’t disaster-proof enough, NOAH’s open triangular frame would help the structure to dissipate hurling hurricane winds by allowing gusts to blow straight through the building.
But despite the daring design, and abilities of the building to withstand extreme weather, progress on the project has gone quiet for the last decade. While the exact reasons aren’t known, it’s assumed the costs of erecting and maintaining a giant floating triangular building are about as high as that structure is tall.
Plus, the fact that the megaproject would only house around 10% of New Orleans’ population doesn’t exactly make it the most sustainable solution to the city’s chaotic weather. So the answer to the NOAH is actually just a straight no.
Not every never-built megaproject has looked sleek, stylish, and futuristic, though. Just under 100 years before the inception of Schopfer’s idea, plans were being hatched to create a marvelously savage, soaring structure that would become a Russian skyline staple. Back in 1919, Communism was a fresh and exciting ideology.
One architect named Vladimir Tatlin wanted to create something to commemorate the new dawn of Communism in the heart of modern-day St. Petersburg. He set out plans to design the modestly named Tatlin Tower, a 1,300-foot tall structure, that would’ve acted as the headquarters and monument of the Comintern; a Soviet-controlled international organization that advocated for world communism.
The design consisted of a contracting double helix that spiraled upwards, supported by a gigantic diagonal beam. Basically, that thing looked like the lovechild of the Eiffel Tower and a helter-skelter ride! Within that mental metal construct would be four glass geometric structures. Just in case that wasn’t chaotic enough, they would all rotate, at different speeds!
The largest and lowest geometric construction was a cube, making just one revolution per year. That would be the place for Comintern meetings. Above that, a smaller pyramid, which revolved once per month, would host Comintern executive activities.
The third structure was a cylinder, rotating once per week, which would house the Comintern propaganda services, like press, poster, and pamphlet designers. And, last but not least, at the top of the tower, was a small sphere that would be the base of the Comintern radio station, which made one revolution every day.
Terrific as the tower may have looked in its final form, it was never likely to actually be constructed. Leon Trotsky, a famous Russian politician from the early 20th century, said that the Tatlin Tower was impractical and romantic. In fact, the megaproject was so impractical and romantic that the estimated cost of constructing it would’ve bankrupted post-Revolutionary Russia. Who could’ve expected that twist?
Mount Athos Monument
If you thought Tatlin Tower was an ambitious project, then get ready because things only scale up from here! Back in 400 BCE, a Greek architect devised a plan to create a structure so big, that it would’ve been the largest monument ever made.
Dinocrates, the technical adviser and acquaintance of Alexander the Great, wanted to create something to recognize the stellar achievements of his great leader. His plan was to form a monument of Alexander the Great into Mount Athos. In his left hand would lie a city of 10,000 inhabitants, and in his right, a cup, which received all the water that rolled down the mountain.
Sadly, Dinocrates didn’t lay down any concrete plans for the monument, but based on historical descriptions and paintings the sizeable shrine is thought to have stretched up to the peak of Mount Athos. If that’s the case, that would’ve made the mega monument over 6,500 feet tall!
For some context, India’s Statue of Unity is the tallest monument in the world today, and even that’s less than a tenth of the potential height of Dinocrates’ colossal carving idea. And, considering that The Statue of Unity took over 3,000 workers 57 months to complete, it’s no surprise that Alexander the Great’s monument never became more than an ambitious idea.
On top of the crazy costs and almost endless manpower that would’ve been needed to make that thing work, Alexander himself opposed it. Turns out that the war hero was worried about how the city’s 10,000 inhabitants would be able to sustain themselves in the absence of any crop fields.
Cenotaph Of Newton
Fast forward to the slightly more modern year of 1784, and an equally elaborate monument was being planned for an influential figure. This time, it wasn’t for a war hero, but a revolutionary thinker. Architect Étienne Louis Boullée was determined to honor the late Isaac Newton, the world-changing mathematician, physicist, and astronomer, with a grand cenotaph.
But that wasn’t any old cenotaph. Boullée made plans for a super-sized sphere, in which Newton’s sarcophagus would be placed at the base. The spherical shrine was so big that its 500 feet height would’ve made it the loftiest structure in the world at the time, eclipsing the Strasbourg Cathedral and the Great Pyramids of Giza.
From diagrams, you can tell just how mega that thing would’ve been. On the layer of the building are cypress trees. And what might look like ants scuttling around the base of the structure are actually humans! But other than its supersize, you might be wondering what’s so impressive about that spherical structure.
While it was wild on the outside, the plans for the inside of that thing were on another level! During the daytime, a number of holes painstakingly positioned in the sphere, would create an accurate representation of the stars as sunlight seeped through them.
And, at night the sphere would’ve been lit with a massive lamp in an armillary sphere, acting like an artificial sun. Majestic as that megaproject looks, it was never really intended to be built. In fact, Boullée was often called a paper architect, someone who creates utopian fantasy projects that are never meant to be constructed.
Can you imagine how long it would take to construct a sphere that’s 500 feet tall? And there’s also the delicate issue of the price. While Boullée himself never disclosed the costs of the cenotaph, construction costs for that would’ve been astronomical.
Anyone who’s seen The Simpson’s Movie or read Steven King’s Under the Dome will already be familiar with the prospect of a whole town becoming entrapped by a giant dome. But those plans weren’t just confined to the world of fiction!
Back in 1959, Architect Buckminster Fuller proposed the utterly mystifying and aptly named Manhattan Dome. His plan was to place a giant 1.8-mile wide dome, made of wire-reinforced shatterproof glass, from New York’s 62nd Street all the way to 22nd Street.
But the main question is, why entrap part of a city in a gigantic dome? And, surprisingly, the answer wasn’t because Fuller had completely lost the plot. Instead, he wanted to create a structure that could regulate the weather in Manhattan.
Hypothetically, the inside of the dome would be kept at a moderate level, reducing cooling costs in summer, and heating costs in winter. On top of that, that big bubble would prevent snow from forming within its case. And, considering that New York City spent a staggering $92.3 million on removing snow from the streets in 2014 it may have been a sensible money-saving suggestion!
But, in the end, the Manhattan Dome would never be more than a wacky idea. There were concerns over the costs of constructing a nearly 2-mile-wide giant dome, and while Fuller never disclosed construction fees, he estimated that a fleet of 16 helicopters would fly segments of it into position.
Unsurprisingly, that wouldn’t come cheap, with a projected cost of $200 million, which clocks in at a whopping $2 billion by today’s rates! If the painful price wasn’t off-putting enough, it wasn’t exactly clear how people could get in and out of the thing. And, with harmful car emissions rapidly clogging the dome’s air up, leaving is something you’d probably want to do.
Illinois Sky City
Around the same time that Buckminster Fuller’s Manhattan Dome idea was being formulated, another architect was making plans to transform a different American city. This time Chicago was the lucky location. There, American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, wanted to create the Illinois Sky City!
If built, that megaproject would’ve contained some 528 floors, and been a whopping 5,680 feet high, making it over one mile tall! At the time of its proposal in the 1950s, the Empire State Building was the world’s tallest construct at 1,472 feet, and yet, Wright’s beastly building would’ve been about 4 times higher. And that’s just above ground!
Underground, it would’ve used a taproot foundation structure with a reinforced concrete core some 500 ft deep to keep the building above steady. Just imagine having to climb one vertical mile’s worth of stairs, which is roughly 3,700.
But, thankfully, Wright had a solution to that too. 76 atomic-powered elevators would be installed in the tower, capable of reaching 60-mile-per-hour speeds, allowing people to reach the top of the tower in just one minute. Aside from super-speedy elevators, that soaring skyscraper would also have come equipped with parking for 15,000 cars and 100 helicopters, along with room for some 100,000 people.
Basically, that place was a city within a building. But, despite Wright’s grand plans, the Illinois Sky City never made it off the canvas. There was just no site, no client, and no budget for such a soaring structure! It looks like Wright got this one wrong.
Introducing the X-Seed 4,000, a stupendous skyscraper, proposed by the Taisei Corporation in 1995. Their daring design was for a sea-based skyscraper to be built off the coast of Tokyo, Japan.
But that wasn’t any old building, far from it. The size of the X-Seed 4,000 was so giant that it would even eclipse Mount Fuji in size. In all the skyscraper would extend an insane 2.5 miles high and 3.7 miles wide. For some reference, that makes it almost 5 times the height of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the entire world!
Unsurprisingly, such a mammoth-sized building would need a lot of construction materials. In total, the X-Seed 4,000 would’ve used up 3 million tons of steel, more than 428 times the amount of metal that went into the Eiffel Tower! For all that, it’s estimated that the X-Seed 4,000 would fit up to 1 million people inside.
For some context, you could place the entire population of Alaska in that building, and you’d still have room for 270,000 inhabitants. Considering that the X-Seed 4,000 would hold so many people, you’d think that the Taisei Corporation would build it on solid foundations.
Yet, the building’s planned area of construction happened to be in the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area known for its scarily high levels of volcanic and seismic activity. Roughly, 90% of the planet’s earthquakes occur along the ravenous ring. So, it’s probably best to avoid building a humungous human-filled structure right on top of it!
Fortunately, it doesn’t look like the X-Seed 4,000 has much chance of ever becoming a reality. On top of the risk of the structure being reduced to a pile of scrap metal, such a major construction effort would cost between $300 and $900 billion. And, considering that the International Space Station, at $150 billion, is the most expensive construct ever made, it’s fair to say that the X-Seed 4,000 is painfully priced.
However, it’s likely that the skyscraper was never actually intended to be built. Instead, many believe that the proposal was a scheme by the Tasei Corporation to earn them some recognition.
Imposing as the X-Seed 4,000 looks, there’s one megaproject that makes the 2.5-mile-high super pyramid look as big as a chunk of Toblerone! The Analemma Tower, as it’s called, was the concept of a 20-mile-high skyscraper that would hang suspended from a hair-raising height of more than 31,000 miles.
You may be wondering what exactly you can hang a skyscraper from. Clouds Architecture Office, the company behind that idea, planned to suspend a skyscraper from an asteroid orbiting the earth via super-strong cables, leaving it floating over 11,000 feet above ground.
If that wasn’t ridiculous enough, the asteroid would then be placed in an eccentric geosynchronous orbit, essentially meaning that it would be constantly orbiting around the Earth. As a result, the building would travel in a figure-8 route, moving from New York to Peru and back every day.
And that’s all whilst the skyscraper is whirring around at 300 miles per hour! The structure would be powered by solar panels located on the skyscraper above the atmosphere, in perfect position to absorb the sun’s rays. Plus, a constant supply of water would be procured from clouds that surrounded the structure.
Terrifying as that concept is, Clouds Architecture Office planned for people to work and live in the Analemma Tower. In fact, there were even plans for shopping, dining, and working spaces on the bottom level. And, towards the top of the tower, there’d be worship floors, a reliquary, and even a funerary.
Currently, there aren’t any materials robust enough to make a cable to support the tower. The toughest theoretical cables could only bear about two-thirds of the building’s load. And, if those snapped, you can imagine the carnage if that thing came crashing down to Earth; both for the tower’s residents and whatever city was unlucky enough to be below!
Yet, for all the safety concerns, the main hurdle for that project was all the obscene costs involved. First and foremost, the task of harnessing and repositioning an asteroid would be pretty pricey. NASA estimated that it would cost $1.25 billion to redirect a small asteroid.
So, you can imagine that lassoing a much larger space stone around the Earth’s orbit isn’t gonna come cheap. And that’s not even mentioning the costs of building the actual tower. At 20 miles high, the Analemma Tower would be almost 40 times the height of the Burj Khalifa.
Presuming that construction would cost 40 times that of Old Burj, the building of that megaproject would total a tear-jerking $60 billion! Currently, a pound of material costs around $10,000 to fly into space, because of the sheer amount of fuel, resources, and manpower required.
On the other hand, the Burj Khalifa, in all its concrete and glass glory, weighs a magnanimous 550,000 tons. So at 40 times the size, the Analemma is looking at a weight of some 22 million tons. Let’s be lenient and suppose they decide to make it out of a more lightweight material, let’s take it down to 15 million tons.
Time for some math! To get all that into space, it would cost around $10,000 per lb and 2000 lbs per ton, so that’s 30 billion lbs, and the cost will be $300 trillion. There’s literally only around $125 trillion worth of money on Earth presently! Safe to say that the Analemma Tower is destined to remain as one super expensive sci-fi fantasy!
I hope you were amazed at these insane megaprojects that were never built! You might also want to read about the most useless megaprojects in the world. Thanks for reading.