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5 Things Built in Places You Wouldn't Expect

Wikimedia Commons
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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China's New Tianjin Binhai Library is Breathtaking—and Full of Fake Books
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A massive new library in Tianjin, China, is gaining international fame among bibliophiles and design buffs alike. As Arch Daily reports, the five-story Tianjin Binhai Library has capacity for more than 1 million books, which visitors can read in a spiraling, modernist auditorium with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Several years ago, municipal officials in Tianjin commissioned a team of Dutch and Japanese architects to design five new buildings, including the library, for a cultural center in the city’s Binhai district. A glass-covered public corridor connects these structures, but the Tianjin Binhai Library is still striking enough to stand out on its own.

The library’s main atrium could be compared to that of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum in New York City. But there's a catch: Its swirling bookshelves don’t actually hold thousands of books. Look closer, and you’ll notice that the shelves are printed with digital book images. About 200,000 real books are available in other rooms of the library, but the jaw-dropping main room is primarily intended for socialization and reading, according to Mashable.

The “shelves”—some of which can also serve as steps or seating—ascend upward, curving around a giant mirrored sphere. Together, these elements resemble a giant eye, prompting visitors to nickname the attraction “The Eye of Binhai,” reports Newsweek. In addition to its dramatic main auditorium, the 36,000-square-foot library also contains reading rooms, lounge areas, offices, and meeting spaces, and has two rooftop patios.

Following a three-year construction period, the Tianjin Binhai Library opened on October 1, 2017. Want to visit, but can’t afford a trip to China? Take a virtual tour by checking out the photos below.

A general view of the Tianjin Binhai Library
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman taking pictures at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A man visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman looking at books at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

[h/t Newsweek]

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One of Gaudí's Most Famous Homes Opens to the Public for the First Time
Pol Viladoms
Pol Viladoms

Visiting buildings designed by iconic Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí is on the to-do list of nearly every tourist passing through Barcelona, Spain, but there's always been one important design that visitors could only view from the outside. Constructed between 1883 and 1885, Casa Vicens was the first major work in Gaudí's influential career, but it has been under private ownership for its entire existence. Now, for the first time, visitors have the chance to see inside the colorful building. The house opened as a museum on November 16, as The Art Newspaper reports.

Gaudí helped spark the Catalan modernism movement with his opulent spaces and structures like Park Güell, Casa Batlló, and La Sagrada Familia. You can see plenty of his architecture around Barcelona, but the eccentric Casa Vicens is regarded as his first masterpiece, famous for its white-and-green tiles and cast-iron gate. Deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, Casa Vicens is a treasured part of the city's landscape, yet it has never been open to the public.

Then, in 2014 the private Spanish bank MoraBanc bought the property with the intention of opening it up to visitors. The public is finally welcome to take a look inside following a $5.3 million renovation. To restore the 15 rooms to their 19th-century glory, designers referred to historical archives and testimonies from the descendants of former residents, making sure the house looked as much like Gaudí's original work as possible. As you can see in the photos below, the restored interiors are just as vibrant as the walls outside, with geometric designs and nature motifs incorporated throughout.

In addition to the stunning architecture, museum guests will find furniture designed by Gaudí, audio-visual materials tracing the history of the house and its architect, oil paintings by the 19th-century Catalan artist Francesc Torrescassana i Sallarés, and a rotating exhibition. Casa Vicens is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. General admission costs about $19 (€16).

An empty room in the interior of Casa Vicens

Interior of house with a fountain and arched ceilings

One of the house's blue-and-white tiled bathrooms

[h/t The Art Newspaper]

All images courtesy of Pol Viladoms.

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