9 Famously Unfinished Buildings Around the World
What a build up!
Architectural wonders are peppered around the world. Civilizations, emperors, and architects have left their stamps on their land. For some, the imprint didn’t make quite the mark and their dream buildings were left unfinished. There are a variety of different reasons for their non-success: lack of funds, unrealistic plans, wars, and epidemics. However, even incomplete, these buildings have become landmarks that attract tourists who want to know the history and the tragedy of what could have been.
WHERE: Barcelona, Spain
Architect Antoni Gaudi’s famous basilica in Barcelona has been under construction since 1882! The plans for the neo-gothic church changed when Gaudi took over from Francisco de Paula del Villar a year into its construction and transformed it entirely. The ambitious design was still a work in progress in 1926 when he passed away. The Spanish Civil War in 1936 halted its construction—photographs and plaster models were destroyed, but plans were reconstructed from whatever materials could be saved from his workshop.
Now millions of tourists who visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site help fund the project. After more than a century of laborious work, it is slated to be finished by 2026.
National Monument of Scotland
WHERE: Edinburgh, Scotland
Atop Calton Hill in Edinburgh, the National Monument of Scotland was planned as a replica of the Parthenon in Athens. A memorial for the Scots who lost their lives in the Napoleonic Wars, the construction began in 1822, but the funds couldn’t be raised by public subscriptions as they had hoped. In 1829, the work stopped after 12 columns were erected. The unfinished stone structure—also called Edinburgh’s disgrace—is still part of the city’s skyline.
WHERE: Pyongyang, North Korea
The tallest structure in North Korea—also known as the “hotel of doom”—stands abandoned and empty in Pyongyang, with nary a guest walking its doors. The construction began in 1987 and it reached its full height (1,080 feet) in 1992. However, the nation’s economic crisis stopped the work and the bare concrete structure was embarrassingly windowless for 16 years. In 2008, glass panels were installed on its facade and a crane on its top was finally removed. In 2018, more than 100,000 LED lights were fitted on the building for light shows used for propaganda, but the doors to this 105-story hotel remain shut.
If it had opened as planned, it would have had 3,000 rooms and five revolving restaurants at its pinnacle.
WHERE: Nuremburg, Germany
Hitler wanted to build the largest stadium in the world in Nuremberg. He unveiled the six-foot model to thousands of spectators in 1937. If completed, it would have been 2,600 feet long, 1,500 feet wide, and 300 feet tall, with a capacity to host 400,000 people. The engineers even made a test model near a Bavarian village, about an hour’s drive from Nuremberg. Over 18 months, the workers built seating for the model stadium, 40,000 in all, with concrete and wood. Hitler visited the site in 1938 and envisioned that the real stadium would one day be the site for all Olympic events.
However, after World War II broke out, construction stopped. The wooden seats were used to rebuild the village after it was destroyed by the war. The concrete foundations, however, have survived to tell the tale of the overambitious dreams of a dead regime.
National Arts Schools
WHERE: Havana, Cuba
In 1961, Cuban leaders Fidel Castro and Che Guevara went to play a round of golf in a country club in Havana and decided to transform it into a tuition-free art school. Three architects, Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti, and Roberto Gottardi, were commissioned to design five schools, and work started immediately with locally-sourced brick and terracotta.
However, in 1965, the government stopped the construction after the political winds blew in another direction. Only two schools were finished—Plastic Arts and Modern Dance—and they were used for decades. The Schools of Ballet, Music, and Dramatic Arts fell into disrepair and were overtaken by the jungle. Soon, all five were abandoned.
In 2011, the schools were declared a national monument after a renewed interest helped in restoring and stabilizing them.
Sathorn Unique Tower
WHERE: Bangkok, Thailand
The 49-story tower in Bangkok was supposed to be a luxury condominium. Now it’s known as Ghost Tower. The construction began when the economy was booming in the 1990s, but came to a crashing halt in 1997 after an economic downturn. It’s an abandoned building, eerily dark at night without electricity.
The building is 80% complete and it’s illegal to enter, but adventurers climb to the roof to see the views that its residents would have enjoyed. The building is crumbling and it’s said to be haunted. The signs outside say that the trespassers will be prosecuted and you should definitely not try to enter the dilapidated structure—it has exposed wires, holes in floors, littered decorations, and rubble.
Basilica of San Petronio
WHERE: Bologna, Italy
Bologna’s main square, Piazza Maggiore, is home to Europe’s sixth-largest church. It is dedicated to the city’s patron saint, Petronius. The construction of this 132-meter-long (433 feet) started in 1390 and continued for centuries, but the facade is still incomplete. It’s easy to spot: the lower part shines with white and red marble, while the upper part is plain old brick.
WHERE: Siena, Italy
The beautiful Gothic-style cathedral was built in the 13th century. The mosaics on the marble floors are impressive—40 artists worked on these intricate biblical designs for over 200 years. There were plans to enlarge it to double its size in the early 14th century. Unfortunately, the Black Plague hit the city in 1338 and reduced its population from 100,000 to 30,000. The structure couldn’t be completed, but you can still see the unfinished walls on its eastern side.
Centro Financiero Confinanzas
WHERE: Caracas, Venezuela
Torre de David (officially named Centro Financiero Confinanzas) in Venezuela’s capital Caracas is a 45-story skyscraper that never was completed. Its construction started in 1990, but a banking crisis in 1994 put an end to the dreams of making it a financial hub. It stood abandoned for years until squatters occupied the building in 2007 and the tower earned the moniker of “vertical slum.” They have since been evicted and relocated to another part of the city and the empty building has been damaged by an earthquake that rocked the city.