Unfinished Structures in Architectural History

It is undeniable that not all projects are destined for success. Financial problems or unrealistic deadlines can complicate the construction of a building. Then there is the chance of the building being abandoned during construction. 

Unfortunately, there’s a long history of failed projects. Economic factors are the most common cause of unfinished construction, but buildings have also been blocked by wars, geopolitical upheavals, disease outbreaks and other unpredictable obstacles, leaving behind partial structures to remember what might have been.

Whether partially completed, left in ruins or still under construction, unfinished buildings offer an alternate history. The following list has just a few examples of the most interesting and infamous unfinished construction projects in history.

1. Alai Minar, Delhi

Alai Minar, DelhiWikimedia Commons

Built next to the Quwwat ul-Islam mosque and the Qutb Minar in Delhi, the Alai Minar was planned to be built by Alauddin Khalji of the Khalji dynasty. Although supposed to be twice as tall as the 73-meter  (239 ft) Qutb Minar, the structure was only 24 meters (80 ft) tall when construction was halted after Alauddin’s death in 1316. Since construction was not completed, the unpaved stone core of the project was never continued by subsequent generations.

2. Sathorn Unique Tower, Bangkok

Sathorn Unique Tower, BangkokWikimedia Commons

Around 80 percent completed, a 49-story building supposed to be a luxury condominium now turned into a ghost tower in Bangkok. Construction of Sathorn Unique Tower began in the 1990s but was halted in 1997 due to the economic crisis in the country. The building has been abandoned for 25 years, is falling apart and is the most dysfunctional tourist attraction in the country. A 175-meter-high tower with six hundred luxury apartments and fifty commercial premises reserved for the most exclusive brands on the planet would have been the perfect showcase. The building was conscientiously looted during the first years of abandonment despite the efforts of its owners to avoid it, and today only the reinforced concrete structure remains, covered with dirt, weeds and puddled water, the living image of a post-apocalyptic disaster. Thousands of buildings that were halted during that time have been completed except this one.

3. Tour Hassan, Rabat

Tour Hassan, RabatAFP

The Hassan Tower or Tour Hassan is located on Bd Mohamed Lyazidi in Rabat, the capital of Morocco. In the 12th century, the Yaqub al-Mansur wanted to build the largest mosque in the world there, as a part of a grand project, to transform the city of Rabat into the most powerful city in the world. The tower was supposed to be 80 meters, but it could complete only 44 meters, a boundless marble floor, and almost 200 cylindrical columns as its construction was halted after Yaqub al-Mansur’s death in 1199. It was built in red sandstone. The place was chosen to house the tomb of Mohammed V (King of Morocco), a masterpiece of Moroccan art. The tower is one of the great works of Almohad architecture and is also considered one of the best examples of Western Islamic architecture. Its grandeur and size are unmatched in Morocco at this time. The Hassan Mosque was intended to be the largest in the world, after the Great Mosque of Mecca and the Great Mosque of Samarra in Iraq.

4. Cathedral of St John’s The Divine, New York

Cathedral of St JohnMasonry Magazine

Saint John the Divine is located between the Upper West Side and Harlem in New York. It is a cathedral of the Episcopal Church of the United States. Construction of Saint John the Divine began in 1892. The construction of the cathedral suffered various interruptions, such as that caused by the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the entry of the US into World War II. The first inauguration of the cathedral took place in 1941. The last construction work was carried out in 1997, and the cathedral remains unfinished; its extraordinary style and details make it an architectural monument.

The Cathedral houses a good number of works of art. The collection includes tapestries from the 17th century. In the stained glass windows of Saint John the Divine, you can find motifs such as a television, a train, or the sinking of the Titanic. Also, go ahead and look for Einstein, Gandhi or Martin Luther King carved in stone!

5. Siena Cathedral, Italy

Siena Cathedral, ItalyFlickr/Big Albert

The famous completed section of Siena’s Italianate Gothic cathedral was finished in 1348, but not everyone knows that there was an ambitious expansion project begun in 1339, halted after less than a decade of work when the bubonic plague swept through the city in 1348. Construction never resumed. Only a few unfinished exterior walls hint at expansion plans, and a partially built floor has been converted into a museum.

6. Ryugyong Hotel, North Korea

Ryugyong Hotel, North KoreaAFP

Construction of North Korea’s tallest structure ‘Ryugyong Hotel’ also known as the Hotel of Doom began in 1987 and has been put in place sporadically since construction was suspended in 1992 which now remains empty and abandoned in Pyongyang. Measuring 330 meters (1082 feet) tall, the monumental pyramid was set to be completed by 1989, but political changes thwarted this ambitious goal as North Korea plunged into major turmoil after the fall of the Soviet Union. 

Designed by North Korea-based Baikdoosan Architects & Engineers, this mixed-use building was constructed as an empty concrete shell until 2008, when a financial contribution from Egyptian investors enabled the installation of windows and construction of the exterior of the building. The opening of the hotel was announced in 2012 and again in 2013, but those plans are currently on hold as construction on the project continues. 

As the information is tightly controlled by the North Korean government, the detailed status of the project and the planned completion schedule are not known. If the hotel had opened as planned, it would have had five revolving restaurants and around 3000 rooms.

7. Palace of Soviets, Moscow

Palace of Soviets, MoscowWikimedia Commons

During the height of the Soviet Union of Stalin, an architectural competition was launched for the construction project of the new government building in Moscow. The winning proposal featured an ambitious neoclassical pyramid structure 415 meters high and a base of 140 meters in diameter. If completed, the 100-meter-tall statue of Vladimir Lenin would be taller than the top of the Empire State Building tower. Construction began in 1938, but shortly thereafter was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II. The structure’s steel was immediately used for war infrastructure projects, and the project was eventually officially abandoned by the Soviet government in 1957. The foundation was used as a public swimming pool from 1958 to 1994, and was later used as a base for the reconstruction of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour,

8. Mingun Pahtodawgyi, Mingun

Mingun Pahtodawgyi, MingunWikipedia

Once the Chinese delegation visited Burma now Myanmar to meet its king Bodawpaya, the sixth king of the Konbaung dynasty gifted him a Buddha’s tooth. During that time relic of Buddha was of great importance among people who then decided to build an immense pagoda to enshrine such a relic that would have been 152 meters high if completed. The building was of such importance to the king that he left the affairs of state to his son and built a residence on an island near the temple site so that he could supervise the construction himself. For its construction, the king used thousands of prisoners of war as labour and the structure had reached a height of 50 meters after 7 years of construction. Because of the gigantic forced labour, the people were dissatisfied, and a riot was about to ensue. An astrologer, taking advantage of the king’s superstitious nature, spread a prophecy that once the work was completed, the reign would come to an end, with the king’s death. This caused the temple work to stop immediately.

9. National Monument of Scotland

National Monument of ScotlandAFP

The National Monument of Scotland was planned to be built as a memorial for Scots who died in the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century. Scotland’s National Monument atop Calton Hill near Edinburgh was meant to reconstruct the Parthenon, but lack of funds left the building barely completed. The project committee could finally afford only the construction of the monument’s foundation and 12 columns. Construction ceased in 1826 and the monument has remained in its unfinished state ever since. And if you visit this unfinished Monument, you will still get to witness an unfinished stone structure that is still part of the city’s gorgeous skyline, which is also known as Edinburgh’s disgrace.

10. La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

La Sagrada Familia, BarcelonaAFP

Work under construction since 1882, Antoni Gaudí’s monumental Catholic church is among the world’s finest unfinished architecture. Gaudí took control of the project a year after the church was built, remodelling the evocative design which he would see only partially completed when he died in 1926. The Roman Catholic Church’s Progress was halted in the 1930s due to the Spanish Civil War and much of the architect’s documentation was lost and his workshop was destroyed by fighters during the conflict. Now in the final stages of construction, the design is based on reconstructed versions and contemporary adaptations of Gaudí’s plants. Today, around 140 years after the first stone was laid, the Basilica is still under construction funded by visitor entrance fees. The structure and the 18 towers of the church are slated to be completed by 2026 and all its decorative elements should finally be in place by 2032.

11. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Metropolitan Museum of Art , New YorkTripsavvy kelsea/watkins

Shortly after moving into the famous building located on Fifth Avenue, the directors of the Metropolitan Museum Of Art decided to alter Calvert Vaux’s original neo-Gothic design, commissioning architect Richard Morris Hunt to adapt the museum’s iconic Beaux-Arts facade. With its four prominent pairs of columns, construction on the facade was briefly halted during the economic crisis of 1901 but was soon completed a year later. However, this pause would leave deep marks on Hunt’s project. During this period, pairs of columns were topped with crude limestone pyramids, which would be carved into ornaments that would represent sculpture, painting, architecture, and music. After this brief pause, the sculpture project was abandoned and the raw limestone stones remain on the main facade of the MET to this day.

12. Boldt Castle, Heart Island

Boldt Castle, Heart IslandPressconnects

Located on the Heart Island near New York Boldt Castle built between 1894 and 1904 is one of the best-known examples of Romantic architecture in North America. George C. Boldt, self-made millionaire and a wealthy New York hotel magnate, tenant and operator of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, wanted an unparalleled home for his family and himself, but especially for his beloved wife. It would be the largest and most beautiful private residence in North America if completed and a symbol of his love for his wife Louise Augusta Kehrer. Construction began in 1894 of the six-story building. Construction was nearly complete in 1904 but his wife’s saddened death stopped the work the same day, and Boldt never set foot on the island again. The approximately three hundred artisans and workers at the construction site and many employees of the supplier companies were out of work overnight. 

Between 1904 and 1977 the building was no longer maintained and became increasingly degraded due to vandalism and environmental influences. In 1977, the Thousand Island Bridge Authority took over the building and immediately began essential renovations to the now dilapidated building. Today, the building complex is almost as it was in 1904. Therefore, it is deliberately left unfinished and not completed later. The renovation measures cost several million US dollars. The pieces continue to be renovated and are not yet open to the public. Rooms are now furnished on the ground floor and 1st floor.

13. Ta Keo, Angkor

Ta Keo, AngkorWikipedia

Ta Keo is located to the east, outside the walls of the imposing city called Angkor Thom. As occurs on numerous occasions, Ta Keo appears almost out of nowhere but with the peculiarity of rising with its towers several tens of meters above the ground. Not many reach these heights, which is why it is said that it could have been one of the best and most imposing temples in the entire historic complex of Angkor if it had been completed.

Ta Keo was the first temple built entirely of sandstone. This undoubtedly marked a before and after in Angkorian architecture, huge stone blocks were perfectly aligned to ensure that this temple stood for centuries.

The idea of ​​building a temple above the treetops came from Jayavarman V in the 10th century with the intention of creating a sanctuary where he could worship his God Shiva. They say that there are inscriptions on the walls of the temple that reveal that Ta Keo was struck by lightning and as a symbol of bad omens its construction was abandoned, finally remaining unfinished.

Later studies suggest that the reasons why it could not be finished were due to the numerous wars that Angkor waged with neighbouring territories, making its completion impossible. But there is still one more theory that Jayavarman V died before being finished with the consequent abandonment of the temple.

14. Bara Kaman, Karnataka

Bara Kaman, KarnatakaVijayapura

‘Bara Kaman’ is an ancient and famous historical monument in the city of Bijapur, Karnataka. Mohd Ali Adil Shah was the fifth Sultan of the Bijapur Sultanate who wanted to build a magnificent tomb. It was planned to place twelve arches vertically and horizontally around the tomb of Ali Adil Shah. Yet, for some reason, the grave work remains incomplete. Only two arches were raised vertically. The remains of twelve arches that have been placed horizontally in the recent past can still be seen. The platform is 20 feet high. This great elevated basement, on which the arches of this unfinished structure stand, is 215 feet square, while that of the Gol Gumbaz is 158 feet square. In the centre, on a raised platform, are the tombstones of Ali Adil Shah II and some of his family members, the graves being in the crypt below, which is entered by a door on the east side. Currently, the site is managed by the Archaeological Survey of India. The building is well maintained with a beautiful garden around the monument.

15. Basilica of San Petronio, Bologna

Basilica of San Petronio, BolognaViator

The Basilica of San Petronio, the largest church in the city of Bologna, has many interesting works of art and frescoes and there is plenty to see on a visit. Although the construction of the Basilica of San Petronio began at the end of the 14th century, it was not consecrated until the middle of the 20th century and the facade – began in the first half of the 16th century – remains unfinished. After the construction of the church, it was necessary to wait until the end of the 15th century to add the side chapels and the bell tower, and the nave was not completed until the 17th century. An imposing church about 130 meters long and 66 meters wide, the facade of the basilica overlooks Piazza Maggiore: the lower half of the facade is decorated with marble, the upper half is in red brick.

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