The translation of a building from a mere concept at the back of an architect’s mind to a real-life monument is a difficult journey, laden with several obstacles. Most often, this perpetual process yields exemplary results and designs that guide generations ahead. But sometimes, nature plays its cards against the Architect’s desires, leaving the fate of their designs to flourish, but only in our imaginations. Here is a list of some path-breaking projects and ideas which, due to unforeseen circumstances, failed to make it to the finish line. Here are 15 famous unfinished projects in architectural history:
1. Alai Minar, Delhi
In 1300 CE, upon its commission, this free-standing tower was supposed to be double the height of its comrade: Qutb Minar. Today, this unfinished project Alai Minar’s first-story rubble masonry core stands dejected in the same complex as its antithesis. It reeks of jealousy and controversies surrounding the Khilji dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate. The death of the Sultan led to the termination of this project by his successors. At 24.5 meters, the ruins of the Minar, along with other structures in the complex, are simply a penumbra to the might of India’s tallest victory tower and are usually overlooked by tourists.
2. Tour Hassan, Rabat
Glimmering in red sandstone against the backdrop of the horizon, this unfinished project is a half-finished tower built to immortalize the conquests of Yaqub al-Mansur. The tall minaret was envisioned as a part of the largest mosque complex in Rabat, Morocco. However, this monumental complex stands unfinished with a 44-meter-high tower, a boundless marble floor, and almost 200 cylindrical columns. The spanned columns and the tower’s height only dictate our imagination to note the colossal scale if the mosque had seen the light of day.
3. Cathedral of St Johns The Divine, New York
Caught between the various styles of architecture across ages, St John’s created its identity as an unfinished cathedral. Humongous in area and height, the cathedral’s characteristic Western façade may trigger your OCD but is recognized worldwide. The enigma of the stories surrounding the incompletion of this profuse and majestic Gothic church pulls travelers to it. Even a century later, it feels as though God himself has sealed the cathedral’s construction as it reaches nowhere near completion.
4. St George’s, Bermuda
A dilapidated church in Bermuda with no roof and broken walls is a hotspot for weddings. This unfinished project of church St. George’s, as goes by its name, suffered several setbacks on its way to completion, which included congregation differences, fund shortages, and even nature’s fury in the form of a hurricane. The architect finally renounced construction in 1899, leaving behind rustic Gothic ruins, which are so picturesque that you would want to get married here!
5. National Monument of Scotland, Edinburgh
The National Monument tells the story of how a monument designated to serve the noble purpose of a memorial for soldiers of the Napoleonic Wars, ended up being infamous as a country’s Disgrace. On the one hand, it was supposed to be a replica of the majestic, ancient temple of Parthenon, with the most massive stones being quarried for its construction. On the other hand, this unfinished project’s development was terminated in 1829 due to a shortage of funds. What survives today of the resplendently planned monument are twelve colossal Doric orders with fluted columns.
6. Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
The beautiful fusion of Gothic and Art Nouveau, this brainchild of Antonio Gaudi is one of his most famous structures, yet to be completed. The slender towers of Sagrada Familia, rising into the Barcelona skyline, can always be pictured with cranes as high as this regal basilica. “My Client is in no hurry.” as once remarked by Gaudi, it is true even today for all the visitors who fly in from all over the world to see this beautiful unfinished masterpiece. The current project architect aspires to complete the construction by Gaudi’s death centennial in 2026.
7. Mingun Pahtodawgyi, Mingun
Can an allegedly created prophecy help save a kingdom? This is precisely what happened in the small town of Mingun in Central Myanmar. Commissioned by the ruler Bodawpaya, Mingun Pahtodawgyi is a stupa and unfinished project perishing in ruins surrounding an augury. Nevertheless, the breathtaking sight of this large rock-cut pagoda, now serving as a home to various biological life forms, is mesmerizing. It forces the onlooker to imagine and appreciate the project’s massive scale if it had been completed.
8. Bhojeshwar Temple, Bhopal
Built around the medieval ages by King Bhoja, the founder of Bhopal city of India, Bhojeshwar temple is a riveting structure thriving in its ruins. Speculations around why it was left incomplete point to natural as well as issues of wars. But, the marvelous intricacies in the temple are still intact and admired. Looking at the massive Shiva Linga in the center defining its scale, Bhojeshwar Temple would have easily been one of India’s largest temple complexes, if it had been constructed entirely.
9. Pyramid of Neferefre, Abusir
Located on the Abusir diagonal, the Unfinished Pyramid of Neferefre is a shoddy work of art that cannot compete with its renowned counterparts. The intention was to build a perfect pyramid filled with riches, but the result is quite contradictory. The early demise of the pharaoh Neferefre forced the successor to bury him hastily covered in a mound of stone. Who knows if completed, we could have had two pyramids in our list of Wonders?
10. Boldt Castle, Heart Island
Like a picture straight out of a fairy tale, Boldt Castle, located on the Heart island near New York is now reminiscent of a lamentable love story. The Castle was built in exposed masonry with ambitious rooms and towers by George Boldt for his wife. However, his beloved’s untimely passing led to the abandonment of the structure with Boldt never stepping foot on this island ever again. Although incomplete, the aura of alchemy around the picturesque Castle draws visitors to this island.
11. Sathorn Unique Tower, Bangkok
Sathorn Unique Tower is a prime sufferer of the Asian Financial crisis of 1997, which brought about a halt in its construction. With a conceptualized plan of building forty-seven luxury floors, it is now a gloomy tower of intrigue. Though off-limits, Urban explorers find their way inside to the top stories of this skyscraper. The dull exposed concrete has been covered by graffiti. The eerie sense of loneliness is still very palpable, with no signs of human life in this incomplete ramshackle.
12. Ta Keo, Angkor
Guided by the quincunx form, there are five sandstone laden sanctuary towers in the city of Angkor. Commissioned by a young ruler, Jayavarman V, this temple-mountain even had a moat built around it. With the death of the ruler, the construction took a standstill, and since then, the golden monument has perished. The carvings on this ensemble are very scarce as compared to the Angkor Wats. It is left to the onlookers to make sense of the chaos in ruins and envisage what may have been a beautiful temple.
13. Bara Kaman, Bijapur
Bara Kaman is an unfinished mausoleum of Mohd Ali Adil Shah. The ruler’s conceptualized ambition was to exceed the glory of his father’s mausoleum by building a grid of 12 massive arches placed horizontally and vertically. However, his envy led to his downfall as he is rumored to be murdered by his father. It led to the cessation of the construction of the tomb. The remnants are a flourishing hotspot for photoshoots now.
14. Basilica of San Petronio, Bologna
The Basilica of San Petronio is unparalleled in size to any other church in the world. But what draws your eyes towards this basilica is its incomplete façade. Ornate carvings in white and red marble, in-sync with the city’s characteristic colors, adorn the first floor. But the rest of the façade is left untouched with exposed bricks and punctures rising into the sky. Uncertainty revolves around why this construction wasn’t finished. The interiors are complete, though they are smaller in size from their original dimensions. Nevertheless, fondness stems in the hearts of the townsfolk for this awe-inspiring structure.
15. Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang
A prominent spire, almost a thousand feet tall, is visible in the low-lying skyline of North Korea’s capital. This edifice is an unfinished project which was erected to be a bustling city center and a hotel. Four years into its construction, North Korea went into an economic crisis that brought about a doomsday for this project. The glint of the glass façade of Ryugyong is unable to hide the bleak emptiness that prevails inside it. In 2018, an LED display was installed on one side of this unoccupied building of desolation, reducing its status from a hotel to a projection screen for the city.