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The “Castle” in the Middle of Death Valley

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If you happen to stumble upon the onetime residence of Albert Mussey Johnson while visiting Death Valley, you might briefly wonder if you’re suffering from heatstroke. After all, it’s not every day you see a $2.5 million Spanish Colonial Revival villa smack in the middle of nowhere.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, a man named Walter Scott traveled with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and earned quite a reputation as a cowboy. After he quit the show, Scott decided to try his hand at gold prospecting and used his newfound status to convince wealthy businessmen to invest in his Death Valley mine.

The only problem: there was no Death Valley gold mine. Whether he actually even tried to find one or simply spent his time and energy swindling investors is still up for debate. Whatever the case may be, Scott had no qualms about spending the money he had collected on himself.

One such investor was Albert Mussey Johnson, an insurance bigwig from Chicago. Johnson was likely one of Scott’s biggest investors, funneling thousands of dollars into the “mine” without ever seeing any evidence of the precious metal. After several years of this, enough was enough, and Johnson booked a trip to Death Valley to see what was going on. When he arrived, Scott made his investor “tour” the desert for days, hoping that the oppressive heat would deter Johnson from hanging out for very long.

It didn’t. Johnson loved the dry heat, and, amazingly, loved Walter Scott. The insurance mogul was well aware that he had been duped, but he couldn’t help but like the man who conned him. For the next decade, Johnson and his wife vacationed in Death Valley to visit Scott every winter. Sick of camping in canvas tents, Bessie Johnson convinced her husband to build something they could live in during their frequent visits. Though the Johnsons financed it, Scott told people that he was building a lavish desert mansion with his profits from the gold mine. Incredibly, when reporters asked Johnson about it, he corroborated Scott’s story—and the mansion became “Scotty’s Castle.”

Construction came to a halt in 1931 when the Johnsons discovered a surveying error that meant they were building on federal land, not private. When they died in the 1940s, the Johnsons left the unfinished castle to their charity, the Gospel Foundation. The charity also took care of Scotty, who lived in the castle during his final years. When he died in 1954, Scotty was buried on a hill overlooking the estate that wasn’t actually his, even though it bore his name.

Most of the time, this incredible product of the strange friendship is still open for tours, but sadly, Scotty’s Castle was damaged by recent flash floods—a storm in October resulted in 2.7 inches of rain, more than the area usually gets in 12 months. With more than a foot of mud covering the floor of the visitor’s center, damaging and destroying exhibits, Scotty’s Castle could be closed for up to a year. The good news: there are plenty of other castles around the country ready to receive tourists.

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FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
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Design
China's New Tianjin Binhai Library is Breathtaking—and Full of Fake Books
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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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Pol Viladoms
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architecture
One of Gaudí's Most Famous Homes Opens to the Public for the First Time
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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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