We instantly recognize famous landmarks: the Great Pyramids, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Golden Gate Bridge, and other architectural and engineering marvels. They are images that come with easy familiarity. But imagine an alternate reality in which names are attached to puzzling, bizarre, and unrecognizable structures. Well, let’s take a tour of such an alternate reality and look at ten known landmarks and structures that could have turned out quite differently.
Related: 10 Incredible Old Buildings That Are Still In Use Today
10 The White House
Washington, DC, was a city in its infancy when George Washington launched a competition to design the future mansion for the US President in 1792. It attracted many proposals, both from professional and amateur architects, with styles ranging from from pre-revolutionary Georgian War to neoclassical. Ultimately, the design by Irish-born architect James Hoban, based on Leinster House in Dublin, was chosen.
However, in our alternate universe, let’s assume that the chosen entrance was the one conceived by none other than the future third president, Thomas Jefferson, who was a fan of classical European architecture. It could have been an unfortunate clerical error that credited the anonymously submitted design to one Abraham Faws.
Jefferson’s vision for the executive mansion included a colonnaded porch and cupola, which is a prominent feature of classical architecture. Though Jefferson’s entry didn’t quite make it, he would add his own touches to the White House once he moved in: colonnades, a carriage drive, and a stable.
9 Arch of Triumph
In our alternate universe, Paris is probably famous for a gigantic elephant. And it would have been called L’elephant Triomphal.
A landmark in the Parisian landscape, the current monument was inspired by the Arch of Titus in Rome and commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte following his great victory at Austerlitz in 1805. However, 45 years earlier, an architect named Charles Ribart proposed a monument crazier. in the same place on the Champs Elysées.
Ribart designed a giant elephant, hollow inside with chambers that could be accessed by a spiral staircase that ascended from the entrance. The three-story ornate beast would be large enough to host banquets and balls. Outside, there would be a garden irrigated through a drainage system hidden in the elephant’s trunk.
However, French officials were neither impressed nor amused and rejected Ribart’s crazy design.
8 Chicago Tribune Tower
The ambitious and powerful newspaper magnate Robert McCormick wanted “the most beautiful office building in the world” to be the home of his influential Chicago Tribune. To this end, he started a design contest in 1923 that would fulfill his dream. In response, 260 architects from 23 countries flooded the jury with a wide range of options.
The winning entry, by John Howells and Raymond Hood, resulted in the gothic skyscraper that now stands on Michigan Avenue. While the building has won critical acclaim, it was initially scorned by none other than the godfather of Chicago architecture himself, Louis Sullivan, who said it “evolved from dying ideas.”
In fact, many preferred the second-place design by Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen to the winner. A late entry, Saarinen’s concept of a modern, minimalist conical tower sent the jury into a frenzy of indecision. Although he ultimately lost narrowly to Howells and Hood, he was hailed as the herald of a new era in American architecture, one that boldly broke free from the past. Today, buildings like Cleveland’s Key Tower and Charlotte’s Bank of America Corporate Center use elements of what might have been the Tribune Tower.
7 Sydney Opera House
If anything defines Sydney, it’s the concrete structures of the Sydney Opera House, rising like billowing sails over Sydney Harbour. Jorn Utzon’s masterpiece was chosen from more than 200 entries in the competition for the design of the building. But if the second-place entry had been selected, Sydney might have had a landmark that was a cross between a submarine and a seashell.
The design was conceived by seven architects called the Philadelphia Collaborative Group. Like Utzon, they drew inspiration from the nearby sea to create a nautilus-like spiral structure that was praised for being “robust” and “suitable” for the seaside location. The brutalist design also featured full-height windows and a copper-clad, folded concrete roof. The latest techniques in concrete technology would have been used to turn the concept into reality.
6 Statue of Liberty
Had Frederic Bartholdi’s original plan been carried out, the Statue of Liberty would have been a veiled Muslim woman guarding the Suez Canal instead of the Roman goddess Libertas guarding New York Harbor.
Recent research has uncovered the sculptor’s original vision for the statue, an Egyptian peasant woman (fellaha) holding a torch aloft to represent Egypt’s social and industrial progress marked by the opening of the canal. It would stand 86 feet (26 meters) tall on a 48-foot (14.5 meter) high plinth. “Egypt Bringing Light to Asia” would also function as a beacon.
The Egyptian authorities, still reeling from the expenses incurred by the canal, did not accept Bartholdi’s idea. The rest is history: Bartholdi traded the Egyptian fellaha for a European woman and sent her to New York City, where she remains to this day: “Freedom Enlightening the World.”
5 Eiffel Tower
A quick fact that busters the myths: Gustav Eiffel did not design the Eiffel Tower. Rather, he ran a construction company specializing in steel structures, which employed two brilliant engineers: Emile Nouguier and Maurice Koechlin. It was Koechlin who drew up the initial plans for the curved tower that would grace the 1889 Paris Exposition and, together with Nouguier, submitted the draft to Eiffel for approval. The firm’s architect, Stephen Sauvestre, further refined the plans, adding decorative touches of his own: glass rooms, arches, and stone plinths.
One of Sauvestre’s additions, conceived when the structure was already up and proving a major draw, were two smaller towers on either side of the main structure, forming a segmented triad rather than the single broad tower with which we are familiar. . The additional infrastructure was intended to facilitate the movement of visitors up, down and around the tower in response to the long lines of people waiting to ascend.
Whether these additions would have enhanced the beauty of the Eiffel Tower or turned it into a steel monstrosity is an open question. What do you think?
4 lincoln memorial
A pyramid in Washington, DC? The Washington Monument was inspired by an Egyptian obelisk, so why not? Ancient Egypt would have been widely represented in the nation’s capital if John Russel Pope’s design for the proposed Lincoln Memorial had been accepted in 1912. In addition to an Egyptian-style pyramid, Pope also submitted a ziggurat based on Mesopotamian backgrounds.
Pope, America’s leading neoclassical architect, was eager to be given the task of designing the monument to the 16th president. However, the Commission of Fine Arts advised the Lincoln Memorial Commission to choose the architect Henry Bacon instead. Pope was endorsed by a member of the Memorial Commission, Joseph Cannon. Thus both men submitted their designs and eventually Bacon’s Greco-Roman building won the jury.
Though Pope’s designs were consigned to the archives, they still spark the interest and imagination of those who ponder what might have been.
3 washington monument
Plans to commemorate the first president began in Washington’s time, but it wasn’t until 1836 that the Washington Monument Society gave architect Robert Mills the honor of designing the monument. Mills’ vision featured not only the now-iconic obelisk, but also a colonnade and an equestrian statue.
Unfortunately, construction was halted in 1856 when anti-Catholics protested against the use of the stone donated by Pope Pius IX. The unfinished monument lay dormant for twenty years when Congress approved funds to resume work. But Mill’s original design was drastically cut, completely removing the statue and rotunda around the base. Only the central obelisk remained intact.
So what we see now must look naked and naked if Mills had been alive to see it.
2 Tower’s bridge
Tower Bridge is the quintessential symbol of London, even mistakenly called London Bridge by some (the real London Bridge is, in fact, upriver). It was Sir Horace Jones’s response to the challenge of traversing the Thames for foot and vehicular traffic without disrupting ships plying the river. The double-leaf drawbridge completed in 1894 has since attracted millions of visitors from around the world with its unique Victorian Gothic towers.
But a simple drawbridge was not the only solution offered. FJ Palmer presented an intriguing and futuristic design. The plan called for the roadway at both ends of the bridge to form a loop. While one side of the loop opens to let a boat through, the other side remains closed to accommodate wheeled transport. Once the ship has entered the loop, the path behind it closes and the path ahead of the ship opens to let it out. It was all quite complicated, but it allowed both road and river traffic to move without interruption.
However, no one was sure if the plan would work and it was eventually abandoned.
When Germany was unified and the Second Reich was proclaimed in 1871, a sudden surge of new legislators necessitated a larger building to house the assembly. A design competition for a new Reichstag was announced in November of that year, and one of the entrants was the British architect Sir Gilbert Scott. Although Scott would ultimately miss out on first prize, his presentation was highly appreciated by the German jury and he took second place.
Dominating Scott’s hybrid Gothic creation was a central dome or dome 75 feet (23 meters) in diameter, similar in construction to the dome of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral. Wings extending in four directions radiating from the cupola. Scott obviously liked domes and insisted that the Reichstag should have one, regardless of architectural style, to give it proper dignity.
Despite not winning, Scott had beaten most of the resident German architects and was justifiably proud of his achievement.
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