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9 of the World's Most Ridiculously Secure Safes and Vaults

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1. Fort Knox

Plan on breaking into Fort Knox? First, climb the four surrounding fences—two of which are electric—and then sneak past the armed sentinels lining the perimeter. Be sure to avoid the video cameras. Don’t waste time trying to blast through the granite walls—they are four feet thick and held together by 750 tons of reinforcing steel. If you get past the armed guards inside, plus the maze of locked doors, you’ll probably be stopped by the 22-ton vault door. Don’t despair. The vault can be opened, but only if you find all the staff members who know a small slice of the combination (you’ll need all of them, since nobody knows the whole thing.) Once you get inside the vault, you’ll have to break into the smaller vaults tucked inside, then you can start taking the 5000 tons of gold bullion stored in there. And do be careful when you leave: 30,000 soldiers from Fort Knox’s military camp will be anxiously awaiting you outside.

2. Svalbard Global Seed Vault

If Armageddon happens soon, any hope of bringing the world’s crops back is buried 390 feet under a Nordic mountain. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault on the island of Spitsbergen currently houses over 500,000 of the world’s plant species. The vault is 620 miles south of the North Pole and safeguarded by hundreds of miles of ocean, plus a couple thousand polar bears. It’s so deep, it’s resistant to a nuclear holocaust, not to mention severe earthquakes. It also sits 430 feet above sea level, safe from any possible sea-level rise. The three seed vaults lay behind four heavy steel doors. As long as the keys aren’t hidden under a doormat, our seeds should be safe from Doomsday.

3. Cheyenne Mountain

Cheyenne Mountain redefines the phrase “job security.” Employees work behind two 25-ton doors, which can withstand a 30-megaton blast. To put that into perspective, Fat Man—the bomb dropped on Nagasaki—would have to explode 1429 times to crack the entrance. The offices there are buried 2000 feet into the mountain’s granite, so far that air has to be pumped inside. That air, however, is the cleanest in the world. It is processed by a state-of-the-art system of chemical, biological, and nuclear filters. It’s no wonder why Cheyenne hosted the US Missile Warning Center and NORAD during the Cold War.

4. Iron Mountain

What do the charred remains of Flight 93, the original photo of Einstein sticking out his tongue, and Edison’s patent for the light bulb have in common? They’re all stowed under Iron Mountain. 200 feet below the ground, this retired limestone mine houses 1.7 million square feet worth of vaults. The US government is the biggest tenant, and the identities of 95% of vault owners are confidential. We do know that Warner Brothers, the Smithsonian Institution, and Corbis all have vaults there. Thousands of historic master recordings, photo negatives, and original film reels live here. Iron Mountain is also home to Room 48, a data center backing up some of America’s biggest companies. Two waves of armed guards protect the entrance, and it’s said they inspect guests so thoroughly that even the TSA would be embarrassed.

5. Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Blocks away from the panic of Wall Street, 25% of the world’s gold rests. At New York’s Federal Reserve Bank, over $270 billion of gold bullion hides in a sunken three-story bunker. Most of the gold, however, isn’t American; foreign nations own 98% of the stock. But that’s because they trust the Fed vault. After all, it’s 80 feet below ground, surrounded by solid rock from all sides, and surveyed by a fleet of expert marksmen. And to top it off, the 540,000 bars of gold are locked behind a 90-ton steel door.

6. Granite Mountain

Since 1965, Granite Mountain has safeguarded the Mormon Church’s genealogical library. The library is buried 600 feet beneath the mountain, where it contains 3.5 billion images—from census records to immigration papers—on microfilm. The documents were acquired through agreements with archives, libraries, and churches from over 100 countries. The archivists there duplicate and digitize old documents, which have been made public at websites like familysearch.com and ancestry.com. The facility is naturally climate controlled, but is also protected by armed guards and a 14-ton, nuclear-blast-resistant door. Chances are, somewhere inside, there’s a record with your name on it.

7. Teikoku Bank, Hiroshima

When the Enola Gay dropped Little Boy on Hiroshima, the city and its people were obliterated. But downtown, just a football field away from ground zero, the vault at Teikoku Bank sat undamaged. The exterior was fried but the interior was pristine. Mosler, the company that built the safe, saw the incident as a great marketing opportunity. For the next decade, it exploited the tragedy to boast about the quality of its products. Safe? Certainly. Tactful? Not so much.

8. Bank of England Gold Vault


It looks like something straight out of Indiana Jones: the UK’s largest gold vault—second in the world to the Fed in New York—stores 4,600 5152 tons of gold. The bombproof door is unlocked via a sophisticated voice recognition system, aided by multiple three-foot-long keys. (Last I checked, they can’t be duplicated at Lowes.) The bank won’t say how heavy the door is or how deep down the vault is buried, but we do know it has more floor space than London’s Tower 42, a 47-story building.

9. Bahnhof and WikiLeaks in Stockholm

The US State Department probably isn’t very fond of this safe house. Buried 100 feet beneath the streets of Stockholm, this old nuclear bunker is the gadfly of all data centers. That’s because the facility, owned by the Swedish internet provider Bahnhof, famously shelters the servers for WikiLeaks. Julian Assange’s most precious computers hide in this data bunker. Tucked behind a 1.5-foot steel door and driven by back-up generators that can go for weeks, WikiLeaks will keep breathing as long as it’s here.

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Ramones Karaoke, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
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Fake It Until You Make It: 10 Artificial Ruins
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Ramones Karaoke, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The love of ruins, sometimes called ruinophilia, has for centuries inspired the creation of clever fakes—a host of sham facades and hollowed-out castle shells found on grand English, European, and even American estates. The popularity of constructing artificial ruins was at its peak during the 18th and 19th centuries, but architects occasionally still incorporate them today.

Why build a structure that is already crumbling? Between the 16th and 19th centuries, the popularity of counterfeit ruins was influenced by two factors—a classical education that enforced the ideals of ancient Greece and Rome, and the extended tour of Europe (known as The Grand Tour) that well-to-do young men and women took after completing their education. Travelers might start in London or France and roam as far as the Middle East, but the trip almost always included Italy and a chance to admire Roman ruins. More than a few wealthy travelers returned home longing to duplicate those ruins, either to complement a romantic landscape, to demonstrate wealth, or to provide a pretense of family history for the newly rich.

Here are a few romantic ruins constructed between the 18th and 21st centuries.

1. SHAM CASTLE // BATHAMPTON, ENGLAND

Sham Castle (shown above) is aptly named—it’s only a façade. The "castle," overlooking the English city of Bath, was created in 1762 to improve the view for Ralph Allen, a local entrepreneur and philanthropist as well as to provide jobs for local stonemasons. From a distance it looks like a castle ruin, but it's merely a wall that has two three-story circular turrets and a two-story square tower at either end. The castle is not the only folly (as such purely decorative architecture is often called) that Allen built. He also constructed a sham bridge on Serpentine Lake in what is now Prior Park Landscape Garden—the bridge can't be crossed, but provides a nice focal point for the lake. Today, Sham Castle is part of a private golf course.

2. WIMPOLE FOLLY // CAMBRIDGESHIRE, ENGLAND

Building a structure that looks as if it's crumbling does not preclude having to perform regular maintenance. The four-story Gothic tower known as Wimpole Folly in Wimpole, Cambridgeshire, England, was built 1768-72 for Philip Yorke, first Earl of Hardwicke and owner of the Wimpole Estate. Owned by Britain’s National Trust, the ruin threatened to truly crumble a few years ago, so restoration efforts were needed. The last restoration was so well done it won the 2016 European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage. The Wimpole Estate is now open to the public for walks and hikes.

3. CAPEL MANOR FOLLY // ENFIELD, ENGLAND

Capel Manor at Bulls Cross, Enfield, England has been the site of several grand homes since the estate’s first recorded mention in the 13th century, so visitors might be tempted to believe that the manor house's ruins date back at least a few centuries. But that sense of history is an illusion: The faux 15th-century house was built in 2010 to add visual appeal to the manor gardens, which have been open to the public since the 1920s.

4. ROMAN RUIN // SCHONBRUNN PALACE, VIENNA, AUSTRIA

The Roman Ruin was built as a garden ornament for the 1441-room Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, one of the most important monuments in Austria. The ruin was once called The Ruins of Carthage, after the ancient North African city defeated by Roman military force. But despite the illusion of antiquity, the ruins were created almost 2000 years after Carthage fell in 146 B.C.E. The ruin’s rectangular pool, framed by an intricate semi-circle arch, was designed in 1778 by the architect Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Hohenberg, who modeled it on the Ancient Roman temple of Vespasian and Titus, which he had seen an engraving of.

5. THE RUINEBERG // POTSDAM, GERMANY

One of the earliest examples of artificial ruins in Germany was the complex of structures known as The Ruinenberg. Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, had a summer palace in Potsdam, near Berlin, that was said to rival Versailles. In 1748 Frederick commissioned a large fountain for the palace complete with artificial ruins. The waterworks part of his plan proved too difficult and was soon abandoned, but not before designer Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff constructed the ruins. The complex includes Roman pillars, a round temple, and the wall of a Roman theatre. Since 1927 the site has belonged to the Prussian Gardens and Palaces Foundation, Berlin-Brandenburg.

6. PARC MONCEAU // PARIS, FRANCE

Elegant Parc Monceau is located in the fashionable 8th arrondissement of Paris near the Champs-Elysees and Palais de l’Elysée. In 1778, the Duke of Chartres decided to build a mansion on land previously used for hunting. He loved English architecture and gardens, including the notion of nostalgic ruins, so he hired the architect Louis Carrogis Carmontelle to create an extravagant park complete with a Roman temple, antique statues, a Chinese bridge, a farmhouse, a Dutch windmill, a minaret, a small Egyptian pyramid, and some fake gravestones. The most notable feature of the park is a pond surrounded by Corinthian columns, now known as Colonnade de Carmontelle.

7. HAGLEY PARK CASTLE // WORCESTERSHIRE, ENGLAND

The ruins of the medieval castle at Hagley Park in Worcestershire are definitely fake, but they were built with debris from the real ruin of a neighboring abbey. The folly was commissioned by Sir George Lyttelton in 1747 and designed by Sanderson Miller, an English pioneer of Gothic revival architecture. The castle has a round tower at each corner, but by design only one is complete and decorated inside with a coat of arms. The grounds, which also feature a temple portico inspired by an ancient Greek temple, some urns, and obelisks, are now privately owned and not open to the public.

8. TATA CASTLE RUINS // TATA, HUNGARY

French architect Charles de Moreau (1758-1841) was a scholar of classical Roman architecture known for his ability to counterfeit impressive ruins. Nicholas I, Prince Esterhazy of Hungary, hired him to work on Tata Castle and to create the ruins of a Romanesque church for the palace’s English Garden. Even though the ruin Moreau created was fake, he built it with the stones of a real ruin, the remnants of the early-12th-century Benedictine and later Dominican abbey of Vértesszőlős. A third-century ancient Roman tombstone and relief were placed nearby.

9. BELVEDERE CASTLE // MANHATTAN, NEW YORK

Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed Central Park in the mid-1800s, and their plan for creating romantic vistas included the construction of a folly known as Belvedere Castle. The Gothic-Romanesque style hybrid, overlooking Central Park’s Great Lawn, was completed in 1869. Although the folly was designed as a hollow shell and meant to be a ruin, it eventually served a practical purpose, housing a weather bureau and exhibit space. The castle also provides a beautiful backdrop for Shakespeare in the Park productions, evoking the royal homes that play prominent roles in the Bard’s works.

10. FOLLY WALL IN BARKING TOWN SQUARE // LONDON

In a borough known for its real historic buildings, the ancient wall found in London’s Barking Town Square might look centuries old. It’s not, and ironically, the wall is part of the square’s renovation efforts. The wall was built by bricklaying students at Barking College using old bricks and crumbling stone items found at salvage yards. Known as the "Secret Garden," named after the children’s book about a walled garden, the wall was designed to screen a nearby supermarket and was unveiled in 2007.

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Dutch Tiny House Village Provides Houses for the Homeless
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The new residential development outside the Dutch city of Eindhoven is no ordinary community. Skaeve Huse is a special place designed for Eindhoven’s most vulnerable populations, according to Inhabitat. It’s aimed at providing permanent living quarters for previously homeless people with mental illness or drug addiction, or who otherwise struggle to live in traditional city residences.

The community was designed by the Amsterdam-based architects at Studio Elmo Vermijs for the Trudo Housing Corporation, a Dutch developer. (The company previously offered a rental discount for tenants who assist refugees.)

A bicycle is parked outside a slanted green tiny house.

“In recent years, several Skaeve Huse have been built in the Netherlands, always temporary, mostly in containers,” the architects write in their description of the project. “Trudo wanted a permanent and energy-neutral design so that this vulnerable group could benefit from the homes in the long term. Skaeve Huse Eindhoven is the first of its kind designed and built with these principles as starting point.”

The Trudo Housing Corporation partnered with the European Investment Bank in 2016 to create more environmentally sustainable social housing programs.

A bicycle is parked outside a slanted green tiny house.

Skaeve loosely means “slanted,” and some of the walls of the colorful houses do indeed slant, giving them a whimsical look. The high ceilings are designed to give the 355-square-foot houses a more spacious, airy feel despite the small size, while maintaining privacy with windows high off the ground. Each of the homes has a living room with a small open kitchen, a bathroom, and an entrance foyer.

The homes are spaced apart to help give people who have trouble living in the typical, cramped spaces of an urban environment extra room, which the designers hope will help limit disputes between neighbors. The land was formerly a forest, and the homes are placed between trees along a winding path.

Though designed for people who didn’t have homes, this tiny house community looks cute enough to replicate for traditional housing, too.

[h/t Inhabitat]

All images courtesy of Elmo Vermijs.

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