Monday, 14 January 2013

A Few More Iconic Cities

I had an article - 7 Iconic Skylines That Almost Looked Ridiculous - published today on, one of my favourite websites. As the article name suggests, it featured seven familiar world cities and their skylines that could have been very different had certain plans gone otherwise. Cities, their layouts, and their buildings exist through a combination of chance and deliberate action - tweak these just a little and the city can turn out very different. My article highlighted what might have been. is a carefully edited website which a distinctive style, and I was not at all surprised to see my own article edited, both to fit its style and for length. It's very interesting to see how they changed what I submitted, making it punchier, funnier, but still getting the message across, and I was especially impressed with a few extra pictures they managed to dig up. The first incarnation of my article was focussed simply upon iconic buildings - very much the headline feature of this site and my travels - but an editor suggested to me it would work better with the focus on entire cities; this was tweaked at the very last stage to focus on skylines.

I came up with eight in total, but this is too much for a Cracked article, and I'm very pleased they kept seven of them, cutting only Moscow. Here, those interested, is what I had for Moscow.

Moscow was almost dominated by the biggest building of all time

Alongside vodka and misery, the Kremlin is at the heart of the Russian world. Usually associated in the West with Tetris and the multi-coloured domes of St. Basil's Cathedral, the Moscow Kremlin is in fact a sprawling complex, filled with palaces, cathedrals, and towers, all enclosed in around two miles of walls. A big-ass fort, you could say.

I said big ass fort.
But in 1767, architect Vasili Bazhenov wanted to turn this big-ass fort into a big-ass building - the biggest building in the world. In the mid-18th Century, the big-ass Russian empress Catherine the Great was getting fed up of Moscow and the Kremlin, which had become dingy and run-down. She wanted a large palace built there, something a little more on the European side. She turned to Bazhenov, who went a step further and produced a truly insane Neoclassical design that involved replacing the entire Kremlin and turning it into one gigantic fortified palace, enclosing four cathedrals. On the south side, by the river, the facade would have reached almost half-a-mile long, at 630 metres. By comparison, the facade of the White House is 51 metres long.

Imperial Russia didn't do subtlety: that's the White House in the bottom right corner.

The insanely massive bulk of stone would have utterly dominated Moscow, leaving one commentator to remark, "had the work been completed, no edifice could ever have been compared to it." Work actually got underway, with old Kremlin walls being torn down and the cornerstone of the new palace being laid in a solemn ceremony. But a plague in 1771 stopped work, and it never really got going again. By 1775, Catherine had got bored with the idea, and called the whole thing off.

Additionally, some of my entries were edited, for length and probably for interest. London was very heavily changed, to focus on the ludicrous "Green Bird" dildo skyscraper. Here's my original entry in its fullest.

Towers of London
The Eiffel Tower, when it was built in 1889, was the tallest structure ever built by man. “That don’t impress me much” an Englishman called Sir Edward Watkin said (we might be paraphrasing) and in that same year he came out with grand plans for another giant metal tower, for London – but 150 feet taller. An architectural competition was held, with 68 “competitive” designs submitted (by “competitive”, we can only assume 19th Century England meant “fucking crazy”). Here are some:

All remain in the running for the first Victorian-era moon colony.
Trains and tramcars would run to the top, but our favourite, from a Mr J. Teritus Wood (it’s the one on the bottom row, second from left on the picture above) promised: “There is a Spiral up to the full height up which visitors may pass. It is proposed to train mules to carry people up the spiral incline.” Inexplicably, however, despite the prospect of hundreds of trained mules carrying people up a 1200-foot tower, Sir Edward Watkin went for the most boring choice possible.

“I like my metal towers just like my Englishwomen – taller, thinner, and much duller than their French counterparts.”
Remarkably, construction began and 150 feet of Watkin’s Tower was built. But lack of funds, public interest and trained mules forced work to a halt, and in 1907, the metal stump was blown up and the land reclaimed. These days England’s national soccer stadium can be found there.

Sir Edward Watkin isn’t the only person to suggest giant, improbable towers in the heart of London. In 1904, a 167-metre Imperial Monument Tower next to the Houses of Parliament was proposed, to celebrate the British Empire.

That’s Big Ben. You know, the small tower at the front.
In 1918, the owner of the world-famous Selfridges department store, the second largest shop in Britain, suggested a small addition to his store.

“I feel people shop much quicker with the threat of the store suddenly collapsing on them.”
And in case you think the crazy ideas were restricted to the past, the 442-metre tall Green Bird was proposed in 1990 and would then have been the tallest building in the world... 
Memo to Cracked staff: Meeting at 3 - I just know there’s a joke here somewhere.

Meanwhile, London’s Tower Bridge is one of the city’s most recognised landmarks. It was designed to allow both road traffic to cross, and boats to pass through, therefore requiring its famous opening “drawbridges”. But to accommodate this dual road and river function, many other solutions were reached from earlier designs.

 Or this “duplex” bridge, which split in two to always allow one road to be open.

In the end, the highly recognisable but still slightly ridiculous twin-towered bridge went ahead. But this didn’t stop people wanting to give it an upgrade. During the Second World War, shortly after the Blitz in which London was bombed for 57 consecutive nights, the architect WFC Holden met with a parliamentary committee to discuss encasing Tower Bridge in glass (because glass, of course, deflects 500-pound bombs dropped from 20,000 feet). This would provide lots of pleasant, sunny office space, have been profitable, and would save constant repainting of the bridge.

Because nothing makes a city prouder than bright office space covering their iconic bridges.
The committee actually allowed Holden’s idea to sit for a couple of years, until the war ended, and it was promptly rejected.

Finally, the following never even made it to editorial review, and therefore never properly written up, as I thought they were too tenuous. My article focussed on the surprising yet credible, and they didn't quite fit the bill. But if you've got this far, they may have some interest.

Tokyo's skyscrapers

Although a megacity, Tokyo isn't a city of epic skyscrapers. Except for the very recent Tokyo Sky Tree and the older Tokyo Tower, the tallest is a very modest 248 metres. This is pretty sensible, given that it’s very prone to earthquakes. Despite this, in the late 1980s to mid 90s, the economic boom coupled with enduring urban congestion led to a flurry of ultra-tall skyscraper solutions. Most of these are over 1 kilometre tall, some over 2 kilometres, and one is a 4-kilometre-high mountain. Had any been built, they would have been the tallest constructions ever, but economic downturn and a little bit of common sense saw the super-tall craze fade away.

From top, left to right. The X-Seed 4000 was an 800-storey, 4000 metre high super-tall skyscraper, taller than Japan's Mount Fuji and the tallest building ever proposed. However, at an estimated budget of over $1 trillion, it was never a serious suggestion. By comparison, the Shimizu TRY 2004 Mega-City Pyramid, at a mere 2004 metres, is dinky. It's still the volume of 55 Great Pyramids of Giza. Cracked covered this one in 2009. Cracked also covered the Sky City 1000, at 1000 metres tall.

From bottom, left to right. At 2001 metres, there's the Aeropolis 2001, and at 1321 metres, MOTHER (in upper case, apparently). Looking like some tower-of-doom in a post-apocalyptic wasteland is the 1000-metre-high Hyper Building. Probably the most credible of all these proposals, or at least by the most credible architect, is the one by Norman Foster, the 840 metre cone of the Millennium Tower. And finally, the 800-metre DIB-200 (Dynamic Intelligent Building) looks boring enough to be possible.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas meanwhile, well it’s no surprise that when it comes to ridiculous projects, Vegas has a healthy share. Much of the time, it seems determined to build casinos in surreal forms of foreign locations, such as Paris, Luxor, and Venice. But the global influence doesn’t stop there – there might have also been versions of London, San Francisco, New York’s East Village, a Chinese Forbidden City (with the Great Wall running through it), Xanadu, and, um, the Moon.

The London Hotel Casino would have featured all the expected London landmarks, with the hotel in the form of the Palace of Westminster – but twice as big. The Moon would have been a colossal moon replica with 10,000 hotel rooms and all the usual Vegas extras. Oh Vegas.

As I say, I'm very honoured to have something published by Cracked, and I hope to have further stuff published by them in the future. It's a website I've followed for years, and it's fascinating to see my own stuff - as changed to fit their angle - on there. I hope you enjoyed it.


  1. I enjoyed your Cracked article, and came here from it. I'm looking forward to reading through your website.

  2. Thanks Piltup, glad you enjoyed the article.


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