Ever since the tower of Babel, humans have been compelled with the lost dreams of unbuilt architecture. Whether being purely theoretical or structurally impossible, some of the most intriguing architectural designs ever conceived never saw the light of day.

But, regardless of their physical presence, these visionary structures remain the main contributors to the architecture scene globally. With the pursuit of innovative solutions for each challenge, the influence of these boundary-pushing designs resides undeniable.

Here are 20 projects, by famous architects, that will keep you wondering about the ‘what might have been’.

1. Cenotaph for Newton, Etienne-Louis Boullee

Location: Paris, France
Year: 1784

The Parisien version of the Pyramids, the Cenotaph’s design went far and beyond to honor sir Isaac Newton, 150 years after his death. The architect, renowned for his academic contribution, was keen on embodying the true essence of Newton’s enlightenment ideas through pure spherical design. The dramatic play with skylights and its casted nuances creates the most celestial experience as one finally reaches the only human-scaled element in the cenotaph, the sarcophagus.

Cenotaph for Newton, Etienne-Louis Boullee - Sheet1
Exterior view ©www.archdaily.com
Cenotaph for Newton, Etienne-Louis Boullee - Sheet2
A section during the day ©www.archdaily.com
Cenotaph for Newton, Etienne-Louis Boullee - Sheet3
A section during the night ©www.archdaily.com

2. Hotel Attraction, Antoni Gaudi

Location: New York, The United States
Year: 1908

Imagine Sagrada Familia merging in the big apple’s skyline. Well, this scene might have been close if the hotel attraction designed by Catalan architect overpassed the paperboards. Accommodating the most lavishing restaurants and galleries, the 360 m building was topped with a star-shaped dome of unobstructed views to New York City.

Hotel Attraction, Antoni Gaudi - Sheet1
A render of the skyline with Hotel Attraction ©www.popularmechanics.com
Hotel Attraction, Antoni Gaudi - Sheet2
Original Sketch of the Hotel Design ©www.thedailybeast.com
Hotel Attraction, Antoni Gaudi - Sheet3
Sketch of the hotel design ©www.antoni-gaudi.com

3. Tatlin’s Tower, Vladimir Tatlin

Location: St. Petersburg, Russia
Year: 1919

A real boundary-pushing design, the structure was a spiraling ‘iron, steel, and glass’ tower holding a cube on top of a pyramid, on top of a cylinder. With each geometric shape housing a specific function, the volumes get to rotate around a central core, again each at its own pace. While the architect never managed to solve the structural possibility of the tower, it remains one of the most iconic projects of the Bolshevik revolution and the modernity it sought for.

Tatlin’s Tower, Vladimir Tatlin - Sheet1
A photo-realistic render of Tatlin’ Tower ©www.archdaily.com
Tatlin’s Tower, Vladimir Tatlin - Sheet2
A physical model of the tower ©free3d.com
Tatlin’s Tower, Vladimir Tatlin - Sheet3
An original drawing of the Tower ©smarthistory.org

4. Friedrichstrasse Skyscraper, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Location: Berlin, Germany
Year: 1919

Entitled as ‘ the honeycomb’, the pellucid tower presented for Berlin’s first skyscraper competition, was merely unconventional of its time. Influenced by its triangular site, the crystalline plan conveyed Mies’ ‘skin and bone’ original concept. Freeing the exteriors from structural purposes, the daring glass tower blazed a trail for skyscrapers design worldwide.

Friedrichstrasse Skyscraper, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe - Sheet1
Photomontage of the skyscraper ©www.archdaily.com
Friedrichstrasse Skyscraper, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe - Sheet2
The original plan of the skyscraper ©www.moma.org
Friedrichstrasse Skyscraper, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe - Sheet3
A model of the Friedrichstrasse tower ©www.moma.org

5. The WolkenBugel, El Lissitzky

Location: Moscow, Russia
Year: 1923

Certainly one of the most unconventional on the list, the skyscraper was a marvel in structural stability as much as it was in its architectural boldness. A horizontal volume spanning over 180 meters rests on top of three pillar-like volumes, one of which would build a connection with the subway.

The WolkenBugel, El Lissitzky - Sheet1
Drawing of the Project ©www.architectural-review.com
The WolkenBugel, El Lissitzky - Sheet2
Drawing of the project ©thecharnelhouse.org
The WolkenBugel, El Lissitzky - Sheet3
Axonometric view of the project ©www.bmiaa.com

6. Automobile Objective and Planetarium, Frank Lloyd Wright

Location: Maryland, The United States
Year: 1925

The planetarium, built on the hedge of Sugarloaf mountain in Maryland, was Wright’s opportunity to explore a new form of architectural expression. Built to accentuate and beautify the era’s obsession, the automobile, the architect designed an intriguing structure of a spiral ramp enclosing a dramatic central void. Little did he know, this project will be the inspiration for his infamous Guggenheim museum in New York.

Automobile Objective and Planetarium, Frank Lloyd Wright - Sheet1
Photo-realistic render of the planetarium ©www.dwell.com
Automobile Objective and Planetarium, Frank Lloyd Wright - Sheet2
The original section of the planetarium ©www.dwell.com
Automobile Objective and Planetarium, Frank Lloyd Wright - Sheet3
The original plan of the Planetarium ©www.dwell.com

7. City Tower, Louis Kahn

Location: Philadelphia, The United States
Year: 1955

A collaboration between Kahn and Anne Tyng, the City Tower was an embodiment of the theory of structural manifestation in architecture. The tetrahedral floor plan is extruded in a zigzag manner with its structure ‘worthy of being exposed’, as the architect would say. The originality of the design stands in tackling outlandish concepts of that time such as space frames, modularity, and growing structures.

City Tower, Louis Kahn - Sheet1
Physical model of the structure ©fi.pinterest.com
City Tower, Louis Kahn - Sheet2
Exhibition of the physical model ©www.artsy.net
City Tower, Louis Kahn - Sheet3
Perspective sketch of the tower ©www.moma.org

8. The Illinois, Frank Lloyd Wright

Location: Chicago, The United States
Year: 1956

Said to house 100,000 people, the Illinois skyscraper was intended to reach double the height of the current world tallest building, Burj Khalifa. Certainly a daring design to this day, the mile-high building would have held 528 floors of mixed-use spaces in response to the growing density in cities.

The Illinois, Frank Lloyd Wright - Sheet1
An artist’s rendering of the Illinois ©en.wikipedia.org
The Illinois, Frank Lloyd Wright - Sheet2
Sketch from the architect ©lynceans.org
The Illinois, Frank Lloyd Wright - Sheet3
The architect presenting ‘the Illinois’ in 1956 ©lynceans.org

9. Manhattan Dome, Buckminster Fuller

Location: Manhattan, The United States
Year: 1960

The proposal is a two-mile-wide geodesic dome over the city of Manhattan. It is surely an ambitious experiment by the architect, said to improve the air quality and control the weather conditions over the city. Regardless of the conviction of the architect, it is needless to say that the structure would face various complications, as the snowy Manhattan winters for instance.

Overview of the project ©medium.com
Plan of the dome ©medium.com
Original sketch by the architect ©medium.com

10. An Endless Tower, Jean Nouvel

Location: Paris, France
Year: 1989

The tour was supposed to be constructed in the ‘La defense’ business district in Paris. The architect’s vision of the skyscraper was an elegant infinite extension of the ground towards the sky. Therefore, both ends of the tower were designed to erase any limits, creating the illusion of an endless tour. Due to the economic crisis of 1990, this ubiquitous design never got built.

An Endless Tower, Jean Nouvel - Sheet1
Photo-realistic Render of the tour ©www.jeannouvel.com
An Endless Tower, Jean Nouvel - Sheet2
A model of the tour ©www.jeannouvel.com
An Endless Tower, Jean Nouvel - Sheet3
A model of the tour ©www.jeannouvel.com
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Architectural Journalist

Rethinking The Future

Creative at heart, Joelle is currently completing her Master of Architecture in Beirut. Joining curiosity with her love for wandering, she is usually drawnto philosophy and travel to find answers and expand her knowledge. She is currently intrigued by the way humans experience cities, so you might find her Instagram filling with shots of her urban explorations.

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