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
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.
2. Hotel Attraction, Antoni Gaudi
Location: New York, The United States
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.
3. Tatlin’s Tower, Vladimir Tatlin
Location: St. Petersburg, Russia
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.
4. Friedrichstrasse Skyscraper, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Location: Berlin, Germany
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.
5. The WolkenBugel, El Lissitzky
Location: Moscow, Russia
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.
6. Automobile Objective and Planetarium, Frank Lloyd Wright
Location: Maryland, The United States
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.
7. City Tower, Louis Kahn
Location: Philadelphia, The United States
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.
8. The Illinois, Frank Lloyd Wright
Location: Chicago, The United States
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.
9. Manhattan Dome, Buckminster Fuller
Location: Manhattan, The United States
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.
10. An Endless Tower, Jean Nouvel
Location: Paris, France
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.