Solomon Chaim, WikimediaCommons // CC-BY-SA-3.0
Solomon Chaim, WikimediaCommons // CC-BY-SA-3.0

The World's Littlest Skyscraper

Solomon Chaim, WikimediaCommons // CC-BY-SA-3.0
Solomon Chaim, WikimediaCommons // CC-BY-SA-3.0

Burj Khalifa. The Shanghai Tower. One World Trade Center. Willis Tower. The Newby-McMahon Building?

One of these things is not like the others. Standing a mere 40 feet tall, the Newby-McMahon Building in Wichita Falls, Texas, is absolutely dwarfed by actual building behemoths. But what the World’s Littlest Skyscraper lacks in size, it makes up for in story.

In 1912, Wichita Falls was doing a big oil business—a gusher had been hit in the nearby town of Burkbennett, and thousands of people rushed to the area to stake a claim. One of them was a businessman named J.D. McMahon—but he wasn’t there to drill for oil. Instead, McMahon surveyed the town and realized it was sorely in need of a professional space where people could manage their oil dealings. He quickly drew up plans for a towering building worthy of the riches that were surely in Wichita Falls’ future.

Despite the minor detail that he didn’t actually have permission to build on the property, McMahon managed to secure $200,000 ($2.7 million today) from investors. They were reportedly thrilled about the building’s prime location across the street from a bustling hotel and not far from the train depot. They weren’t so thrilled upon the building’s completion in 1919, when they realized they had invested in more of a tall tale than a tall tower.

It seems that in the rush and excitement to capitalize on the boom town, no one bothered to check the dimensions of McMahon’s plans. By the time they figured out that it soared to the grand height of 480 inches instead of 480 feet, McMahon was long gone. What’s more, a judge ruled that the investors didn’t have a case, anyway—the blueprints were clearly labeled, and the financial backers should have reviewed them more carefully.

That’s not to say the space went unused. Six oil companies rented desks in the building, which, in addition to being rather squatty, was just 10 feet by 16 2/3-feet wide. It also gained fame when Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! column deemed it “The World’s Littlest Skyscraper” in a 1920 cartoon. The oil boom fizzled out a few years later, however, and the small structure was abandoned. After a fire took it completely out of commission in 1931, the remains of the burned-out “skyscraper” served mostly as an embarrassing reminder of Wichita Falls’ once-grand aspirations.

Though there were talks of demolishing the building, locals fought to have it saved, spending nearly $200,000 to purchase and restore all four stories. Their efforts paid off—the World’s Littlest Skyscraper was named to the National Historic Register and still stands today, housing an antique shop and an art studio.

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Morfeus Arkitekter. Photo: Silja Lena Løken / Statens vegvesen
Norway Opens Another Spectacular Roadside Bathroom
Morfeus Arkitekter. Photo: Silja Lena Løken / Statens vegvesen
Morfeus Arkitekter. Photo: Silja Lena Løken / Statens vegvesen

Norway’s National Tourist Routes will change how you think about rest stops. As part of a decades-long program, the Norwegian government has been hiring architects and designers to create beautiful roadside lookouts, bathrooms, and other amenities for travelers along 18 scenic highways throughout the country. One of the latest of the projects unveiled, spotted by Dezeen, is a glitzy restroom located on the Arctic island of Andøya in northern Norway.

The facility, designed by the Oslo-based Morfeus Arkitekter, is located near a rock formation called Bukkekjerka, once used as a sacrificial site by the indigenous Sami people. The angular concrete and steel structure is designed to fit in with the jagged mountains that surround it.

The mirrored exterior wall of the bathroom serves a dual purpose. On the one hand, it reflects the scenery around the building, helping it blend into the landscape. But it also has a hidden feature. It’s a one-way mirror, allowing those inside the restroom to have a private view out over the ocean or back into the mountains while they pee.

The newly landscaped rest area near the bathroom will serve as an event space in the future. The Bukkekjerka site is already home to an annual open-air church service, and with the new construction, the space will also be used for weddings and other events. Because this is the Arctic Circle, though, the restroom is only open in the late spring and summer, closing from October to May. Check it out in the photos below.

A bathroom nestled in a hilly landscape
Morfeus Arkitekter. Photo: Hugo Fagermo / Statens vegvesen

The mirrored facade of a rest stop reflects concrete steps leading down a pathway.
Morfeus Arkitekter. Photo: Hugo Fagermo / Statens vegvesen

A person stands outside the bathroom's reflective wall.
Morfeus Arkitekter. Photo: Hugo Fagermo / Statens vegvesen

A wide view of a rest stop at the base of a coastal mountain
Morfeus Arkitekter. Photo: Trine Kanter Zerwekh / Statens vegvesen

[h/t Dezeen]

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Snøhetta
Norway's New Hotel in the Arctic Circle Will Produce More Energy Than It Uses
Snøhetta
Snøhetta

A new hotel coming to Norway’s section of the Arctic Circle will be more than just a place to stay for a stunning fjord view. The Svart hotel, which is being billed as the world’s first "energy-positive" hotel, is designed to “set a new standard in sustainable travel,” according to Robb Report.

Built by a tourism company called Arctic Adventure Norway and designed by Snøhetta, an international architecture firm headquartered in Oslo, it’s one of the first buildings created according to the standards of Powerhouse, a coalition of firms (including Snøhetta) devoted to putting up buildings that will produce more power over the course of 60 years than they take to build, run, and eventually demolish. It will be located on a fjord at the base of Svartisen, one of the largest glaciers on Norway’s mainland and part of Saltfjellet-Svartisen National Park.

A hotel stretches out above the water of a fjord.
Snøhetta

The design of the hotel is geared toward making the facility as energy-efficient as possible. The architects mapped how the Sun shines through the mountains throughout the year to come up with the circular structure. When the Sun is high in the winter, the terraces outside the rooms provide shadows that reduce the need for air conditioning, while the windows are angled to catch the low winter Sun, keeping the building warm during cold Arctic winters. In total, it is expected to use 85 percent less energy than a traditional hotel.

The sun reflects off the roof of a hotel at the base of a glacier on a sunny day.
Snøhetta

Svart will also produce its own energy through rooftop solar panels, though it won’t have excess energy on hand year-round. Since it’s located in the Arctic Circle, the hotel will have an abundance of sunlight during the summer, at which point it will sell its excess energy to the local electricity grid. In the winter, when it’s too dark for solar energy production, the hotel will buy energy back from the grid. Over the course of the year, it will still produce more energy than it uses, and over time, it will eventually produce enough excess energy to offset the energy that was used to build the structure (including the creation of the building materials).

“Building in such a precious environment comes with some clear obligations in terms of preserving the natural beauty and the fauna and flora of the site,” Snøhetta co-founder Kjetil Trædal Thorsen explains in the firm’s description of the design. “Building an energy-positive and low-impact hotel is an essential factor to create a sustainable tourist destination respecting the unique features” of the area.

Svart is set to open in 2021.

[h/t Robb Report]

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