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5 Things Built in Places You Wouldn't Expect

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Wikimedia Commons

Typically, when one needs to have a building constructed, they’ll put it in a spot that makes sense. You build a marina next to the water, not by a parking lot a few miles away. Apparently, these people didn't get the memo and located their buildings in very unintuitive places.

1. A Supercomputer Inside a Century-Old Chapel 


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In movies, supercomputers are always located in big, modern facilities with lots of bright lights and white walls. The MareNostrum supercomputer in Barcelona got part of that right—it does have lots of bright lights. But its facility is decidedly less-than-modern: the MareNostrum (Latin for “our sea,” but Romans used it specifically to refer to the Mediterranean Sea) is located in a one-hundred-year-old Spanish church.

The chapel, formerly called Torre Girona, was a Catholic church that was deconsecrated and given to the Technical University of Catalonia. In 2005, the building was reborn as the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, home of MareNostrum, which at the time was the fifth most powerful supercomputer in the world. It had fallen to the 465th most powerful until an upgrade earlier this year; MareNostrum is currently the 29th most powerful supercomputer on Earth.

2. A Nuclear Reactor In the Middle of London

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There’s a recurring phrase when it comes to nuclear reactors: Not In My Back Yard, or NIMBY for short. In many cases, the public doesn’t mind nuclear power. What bothers people is having it within a few miles of their homes. So imagine how shocked Londoners were when they found out that a nuclear reactor had been secretly operating in the heart of one of the largest cities in the world for over 30 years.

The reactor, called JASON, was a government research reactor used primarily for training purposes. And although it was quite small, it still produced nuclear fuel that was 30 times more radioactive than that produced in commercial scale reactors. On top of that, it was located in an officially “nuclear-free zone.”

Also interesting is that the reactor was housed in a 17th century hospital. The former Greenwich Hospital, now the Old Royal Naval College, was the home of the JASON reactor from 1963 to 1999, when it was finally dismantled.

(It’s also worth mentioning that Kodak operated a similar nuclear reactor in the middle of Rochester, New York, which it kept hidden from the public. It was dismantled in 2006.)

3. Churches in Antarctica

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No matter where you are in the world, you’re typically never far from a place of worship. The one exception, you're probably thinking, is Antarctica—but you'd be wrong. It turns out, even our coldest, least populated continent has places where people can fulfill their spiritual needs.

There are approximately a half-dozen churches peppering our southernmost landmass, serving the 5000 or so people who may inhabit it at any given time.

These include The Chapel of the Snows, a non-denominational Christian church (which has also held services for people of other faiths and even hosts AA meetings), the beautiful Trinity Church (above), a Russian Orthodox church on King George Island, and the St. Ivan Rilski Chapel, which is little more than a simple single-room building with a few candelabra and religious paintings hung on the walls.

4. A Sculpture Park Under the Ocean

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Say you had a hankering to expand your cultural awareness and check out some sculptures. If you live in a big city, there’s a chance you’ve got a few here and there, dotting the landscape. Maybe there's a local art museum with some sculptures on exhibit. And that’s about it. Where else would you even look?

One place you probably wouldn’t think you could see whole tons (literally) of sculpted artworks, though, is a dozen or so meters under the ocean. And yet just a few miles from the west coast of Grenada lies not only one of the biggest statuary parks in the world, but the only one that’s completely submerged. Featuring over 65 different installations, the Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park is the brainchild of artist Jason deCaires Taylor. It includes sculpted rings of children, a writer at his desk, and a whole lot of disembodied stone heads. Just one of the numerous sets of statues weighs approximately 15 tons.

An added bonus is that the statues are environmentally friendly and promote the growth of coral, which is massively beneficial since much of Grenada’s natural reefs were destroyed by hurricanes in 2004.

5. A Temple on the Side of a Cliff

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While you may not find it in as uninhabited a place as Antarctica, China has a unique religious building of its own, and it’s in a place you wouldn’t expect anything to be built. The Xuankong Temple, otherwise known as The Hanging Temple, is built into a sheer rock face nearly 250 feet above ground. (And the nearest city, Datong, is about 40 miles away, so while it may not be in the middle of a tundra, it is pretty isolated.)

According to legend, the temple was started by one monk, Liao Ran, 1500 years ago. It’s been renovated and expanded in the centuries since, but the temple itself is (obviously, judging from how long it’s stuck around) remarkably sturdy. It’s made from a series of beams placed into holes that were carved directly into the cliff, plus a large support beam that’s built into the bedrock below.

There’s also one other unique thing about Xuankong—it is the only temple in China that encompasses all three of the nation’s historical religions: Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism.

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After Four Months, a Frank Lloyd Wright House in Glencoe, Illinois Goes Back on the Market

Most architecture nerds would be thrilled to live in an original Frank Lloyd Wright house, and occasionally, they get their chance—as long as they’re willing to pay a few million dollars. As of late 2017, there were Frank Lloyd Wright homes for sale in New York, Minnesota, Ohio, Connecticut, and elsewhere for $1 million dollars or more (in some cases, way more). Sometimes, you can find a deal, though, like the $445,000 Usonian home that went on the market in Michigan in 2016.

Sadly, as Curbed reports, a newly for-sale Wright house in Glencoe, Illinois is not such a deal anymore. Only three months after its $752,000 sale, the 1914 Kier House in suburban Chicago has been renovated and is back on the market for $837,500.

Many Wright homes need a little love after decades of use. For one thing, the architect is somewhat notorious for building leaky roofs. Their small kitchens and shag carpeting are no longer quite so desirable, either.

But for many buyers and architects, restoring a Wright home is a labor of love, one that often takes several years and aims to respect the original designer’s genius while bringing the house up to modern standards. (For some of the historic homes, permanent easements also prohibit most exterior alterations, further limiting what a remodel can involve.)

The Prairie School-style house, though it has Honorary Landmark status, isn’t entirely original to Wright. It has a more modern kitchen, a new family room, and updated bathrooms (with a steam shower!). Previous owner Susan Cowen, who owned the house for a number of years and spent an undisclosed amount on refurbishing it, sold the residence in January to a pair of documentary filmmakers, according to Patch. The sale, which included a significant price drop, only took a few months. They, in turn, made a number of improvements. The owners fixed up the chimneys, boiler, and furnace, added a limestone bar separating the kitchen and dining room, and raised part of the ceiling above the stairs.

Now, four months later, it’s on sale again, and, thanks to the upgrades, a little pricier. The latest sellers may find, though, that not every Wright sale goes as quickly as their purchase. The architect’s homes are highly prized, but also known to be very difficult to sell, sometimes languishing on the market for years before finding a buyer.

[h/t Curbed]

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Long-Closed Part of Westminster Abbey to Open to the Public for the First Time in 700 Years
The triforium in 2009
The triforium in 2009
Peter Macdiarmid, Getty Images

On June 11, 2018, visitors to London's Westminster Abbey will get a look at a section of the historic church that has been off-limits for 700 years. That’s when the triforium, located high above the abbey floor, will open to the general public for the first time as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries, according to Condé Nast Traveler.

The 13th-century space, located 70 feet above the nave floor, had previously been used for abbey storage. (One architecture critic who visited before the renovation described it as a “glorified attic.”) After a $32.5 million renovation, it will now become a museum with killer views.

The view from the triforium looking down onto the rest of Westminster Abbey
The view from the triforium looking down toward the ground floor of the abbey
Dan Kitwood, Getty Images

To access the area, which looks out over the nave and altar, architects built a new tower, the abbey’s first major addition since 1745. The 80-foot-tall, window-lined structure will provide brand-new vantage points to look out on surrounding areas of Westminster. Inside the triforium, the windows of the galleries look out onto the Houses of Parliament and St. Margaret’s church, and visitors will be able to walk around the upper mezzanine and look down onto the ground floor of the abbey below.

The museum itself will show off objects from Westminster Abbey’s history, such as a 17th-century coronation chair for Mary II and an altarpiece from Henry III’s reign, when the triforium was first constructed. Oh, and it will also display Prince William and Kate Middleton’s marriage license, for those interested in more modern royal history.

[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]

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