Frank Lloyd Wright // Facebook Group Odd Pittsburgh
Frank Lloyd Wright // Facebook Group Odd Pittsburgh

8 Amazing Scrapped Projects That Would Have Changed U.S. Cities

Frank Lloyd Wright // Facebook Group Odd Pittsburgh
Frank Lloyd Wright // Facebook Group Odd Pittsburgh

Any city’s history of development is filled with interesting near misses. Here are eight ambitious projects that each could have reshaped a U.S. city, but were instead left on the drawing board.


The biggest train station in the world (by number of platforms), Grand Central Terminal was almost capped by what would been the world’s tallest building. In 1902, William J. Wilgus, chief engineer of New York Central Railroad, envisioned the station with a skyscraper on top. Its hotels and apartments would generate revenue to pay off the final $114 million price tag of the project. (That’s $2.7 billion in 21st-century dollars.) One of the architecture firms to compete for the project designed a 60-story building, which would have been the world’s tallest at the time. But the plan selected by the railroad company, a combination of two other firms’ ideas, scrapped the tower and “only” went 45 feet beneath the surface to displace 3.2 million cubic yards of earth to create the world-famous transportation hub.


“Want a Preview of Indianapolis of 1978?” blared the headline of a September, 1953 edition of the Indianapolis Star. It said nothing about urban decay, disco or the drama surrounding former (and future) Pacers player Billy Knight. Instead, the story broke news of the city’s planned reorganization, one of several mid-century urban restructurings commissioned to ease the influx of automobiles into downtowns. Indianapolis’ Crossroads of America plan, which the Metropolitan Planning Department finalized in 1958, would have broken the city into four quadrants, one for entertainment, one for business and hotels, one a finance sector, and the last for medical services. Each would have a gigantic parking garage and a subway stop to connect them to downtown. Most impressively, the plan called for helicopter ferry service leaving every 15 minutes from Union Street to the cultural district of Broad Ripple. Some of its more eccentric aspects were a fashion district with open-air runways and a Victorian village meant to replicate the city’s past. As decades passed, the city failed to get started on the plan.


Decades of industry turned the patch of land at which Pittsburgh’s three rivers meet into a mass of docks and railyards, and, in the 1940s, the city looked to redevelop that area. The most insane proposal the city received was from Frank Lloyd Wright. The famed architect’s Point Park Civic Center called for a massive circular structure containing a sports arena, an opera house, movie theaters, and a planetarium. It also would have an aquarium with huge spherical tanks. Two cable-stayed suspension bridges held up by a colossal tower would have connected the center to other areas of the city across the rivers. Although Wright submitted a few scaled-back, more affordable versions to Pittsburgh, the city decided on a more conventional park for that space.


The Point Park Civic Center was, surprisingly, not Frank Lloyd Wright’s most bonkers unrealized project. That distinction goes to the skyscraper proposal he presented to Chicago’s business elite in 1956. It would have been one mile high, 548 stories, and called The Illinois. The structure was designed to house 100,000 people (about 2.7 percent of Chicago’s population in 1950), and the plans called for atomic-powered elevators that could reach the top at freeway speeds. It would have been the largest building in the world (and still the tallest). Skyscrapers half its size wouldn’t be realized until decades later. The closest The Illinois came to realization was an eight-foot model included in a Museum of Modern Art retrospective on Wright.


In 1951, California lawmakers launched a study of the transportation needs of the growing San Francisco Bay Area. The result was BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transit set of rail lines. The original 1956 plan, dredged up by cartographer Jake Coolidge for his master’s thesis at San José State University in 2011, was much vaster than the four-tentacle system that was implemented. It would have touched nine counties (meaning day trips from the city to wine country), and the interlocking of various lines would have allowed for much quicker travel across distances. As the local news startup pointed out, “George Lucas could take the M train from Lucas Valley station, transfer to the P at 4th and King, and arrive at Facebook in Menlo Park in plenty of time for an early lunch.”


ManfrediNicoletti and Sergio Musmeci // University of Naples

It’d take an eye-popping building to stand out in Downtown Manhattan, even if it was a skyscraper. The Helicoidal Skyscraper [PDF] would have. Conceived by architect Manfredi Nicoletti and engineer Sergio Musmeci in the late ’60s, the tower would have spiraled up 1854 feet, resembling a big, grey DNA helix shooting up from the tip of Manhattan. Inspired by stay-bridge technology and the muscles of mammals, the design called for three inter-connected hollow cylinders at the core of the building, which would have helped it stay steady against winds and other natural elements. The building never moved past the design phase.


Image via the City of Santa Monica, via The Malibu Times

Can you imagine driving from Santa Monica to Malibu in half an hour? John Drescher could. In the 1960s, the millionaire developer/engineer proposed an offshore causeway across Santa Monica Bay, built on artificial islands. The roadway would have bypassed Los Angeles’s famously congested traffic, and the 30,000-foot-long chain of man-made isles could have housed 29,000 people. City planners in Santa Monica were into the idea and paid for a feasibility study. Shoreline residents, led by Gunsmoke star James Arness, were adamantly against it, fearing the destruction of the bay’s natural habitat, and California Governor Pat Brown vetoed the causeway.


It’s not the most ambitious item on this list, but if it had been built, everyone who passes through Ann Arbor would take a selfie in front of it. In 1987, Tom Monaghan, founder and then owner of Domino’s Pizza, contracted an architectural firm to build a tilted, 30-floor office building on its corporate campus a few miles outside the Michigan city. Its name? The Leaning Tower of Pizza, of course. Monaghan, a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright, hoped to model it after his Golden Beacon, another of his unrealized plans for a Chicago tower. The project never came to fruition but a 50-foot model of its stands outside Ann Arbor.

Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Qatar National Library's Panorama-Style Bookshelves Offer Guests Stunning Views
Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The newly opened Qatar National Library in the capital city of Doha contains more than 1 million books, some of which date back to the 15th century. Co.Design reports that the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) designed the building so that the texts under its roof are the star attraction.

When guests walk into the library, they're given an eyeful of its collections. The shelves are arranged stadium-style, making it easy to appreciate the sheer number of volumes in the institution's inventory from any spot in the room. Not only is the design photogenic, it's also practical: The shelves, which were built from the same white marble as the floors, are integrated into the building's infrastructure, providing artificial lighting, ventilation, and a book-return system to visitors. The multi-leveled arrangement also gives guests more space to read, browse, and socialize.

"With Qatar National Library, we wanted to express the vitality of the book by creating a design that brings study, research, collaboration, and interaction within the collection itself," OMA writes on its website. "The library is conceived as a single room which houses both people and books."

While most books are on full display, OMA chose a different route for the institution's Heritage Library, which contains many rare, centuries-old texts on Arab-Islamic history. This collection is housed in a sunken space 20 feet below ground level, with beige stone features that stand out from the white marble used elsewhere. Guests need to use a separate entrance to access it, but they can look down at the collection from the ground floor above.

If Qatar is too far of a trip, there are plenty of libraries in the U.S. that are worth a visit. Check out these panoramas of the most stunning examples.

Qatar library.

Qatar library.

Qatar library.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images: Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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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