15 of the Most Famous Unfinished Structures in Architectural History
The world is full of architectural wonders. The Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, and the Empire State Building are just some of the incredible creations showcasing the brilliance of the human mind. Many of these buildings and structures took years to design and build, with some still yet to be completed. These famous unfinished structures are scattered around the world, with each having its own reason for never being finished.
Construction stopped on some due to war, natural disasters, economic strains, and other unseen problems that arose during the planning and building process. While these structures stand unfinished, many are still in use today or have become tourist attractions. Below we highlight some of the most famous unfinished structures and the reasons why they remain incomplete.
15 of the Most Famous Unfinished Structures in Architectural History
1. La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
The Basílica I Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, shortened to La Sagrada Familia, has been under construction for over 100 years. The largest unfinished Catholic church in the world was designed by architect Antoni Gaudí, with construction commencing on March 19, 1882, in Barcelona, Spain.
Francisco de Paula del Villar was the original architect in control before Gaudí took over a year after construction began. He decided to totally redesign the church, which was only partially completed when he died in 1926. The Spanish Civil War halted building in the 1930s while a fire in 1936 also damaged large parts of the church. It wasn’t until the mid-1950s that building resumed, with new technology enabling some of the more ambitious designs to come to fruition.
The Basilica features all kinds of neo-gothic designs and the inside is full of weird statues, inscriptions on the walls, and eye-opening structures. La Sagrada was meant to be finished by 2026, but the COVID-19 pandemic has derailed that plan, with the church now predicted to be complete by 2032.
2. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The largest art museum in America is also unfinished. While it has been open since 1872, work on the museum in New York City continued for decades, with architect Richard Morris Hunt commissioned to transform the Metropolitan Museum Of Art’s front facade into something timeless.
He wanted 31 statues to be built but died before his plan could be put into action. A struggle to find funding meant the large limestone blocks sitting atop the four pillars of the museum remain untouched, giving the MET an unfinished look.
3. Alai Minar, Delhi
Alauddin Khalji of the Khalji dynasty was the mastermind behind the Alai Minar. The free-standing tower was meant to be around 478 feet tall, twice the size of the famed UNESCO-listed Qutb Minar. A victory tower celebrating his greatness, Khalji wanted Alai Minar to be a signal of his power so that everyone under his rule would respect him and his enemies would fear him.
Unfortunately for Khalki, he passed away on January 4, 1316, from an illness he had been battling for several years. Work on Alai Minar was immediately stopped and the monument was left incomplete. The 80-foot tower has now become a favorite destination with tourists and history buffs.
4. Sathorn Unique Tower, Bangkok
Bangkok is home to many unfinished structures, but none are as present in the city’s skyline as Sathorn Unique Tower. Designed and developed by architect Rangsan Torsuwan, the looming structure was envisioned as a luxury apartment building with 47 floors and over 600 units.
Work on the Sathorn Unique Tower commenced in 1990 but hit its first hurdle in 1993 when Torsuwan was arrested for allegedly plotting to assassinate the President of the Supreme Court. Although he would eventually be found not guilty by the Court of Appeals in 2010, he couldn’t find funding to complete the tower.
The 1997 Asian financial crisis also hit hard and meant construction work had to be halted for lack of funds. The ghost tower has been sitting unfinished for over 25 years and is just one of the thousands of similar buildings found throughout Bangkok that were left incomplete due to the financial crisis.
5. Hassan Tower, Rabat
Also known as Tour Hassan, Hassan Tower is an incomplete mosque in Rabat, Morrocco. Abu Yusuf Yaqub al-Mansur had a dream to build the world’s largest mosque and turn Rabat into one of the world’s great cities. Building began in the 12th century but was halted when Yaqub al-Mansur died in 1199.
Standing 144 feet tall, half of the expected 290 feet height it was meant to reach, there are 348 walls and columns that have been left incomplete that surround the mosque. These days Hassan Tower is a tourist attraction that houses the tomb of Mohammed V (King of Morocco) and one of the best examples of Western Islamic architecture. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the main reasons people visit Rabat.
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6. National Monument of Scotland, Edinburgh
Built on Carlton Hill in Edinburgh in 1826, the National Monument of Scotland is a memorial to the soldiers who died fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. Designers Charles Robert Cockerell and William Henry Playfair based their plans on the Parthenon in Athens. Sadly just three years after construction kicked off, funding was cut and the monument was left unfinished.
Although it was never completed, the National Monument of Scotland is still an impressive-looking structure. There have been several attempts over the years to raise funds to fulfill the project, but nothing has been realized yet.
7. Cathedral of St Johns The Divine, New York
Located in Manhatten, the Cathedral of St Johns The Divine is over 100 years old yet has never been completed. The world’s sixth-largest church takes inspiration from several different design styles, including Gothic Revival, Byzantine Revival, and Romanesque Revival. This is one of the reasons it has never been finished; the design continued to change over the decades as new people came onto the project with different ideas.
While it may never be finished, the cathedral has been in use since 1941 and continues to host services and special events. Many prominent funerals have taken place there, including those celebrating the lives of writer James Baldwin, poet Allen Ginsberg, Muppets creator Jim Henson, and inventor Nikola Tesla. The Cathedral also houses several artworks, including 17th-century tapestries and statues of Albert Einstein and Martin Luther King.
8. Mingun Pahtodawgyi, Mingun
Mingun Pahtodawgyi is a stupa (a mound-like structure used by Buddist for worship) that is in the record books for being the largest pile of bricks in the world. Construction on the sacred site began in 1790 under the order of King Bodawpaya. He used thousands of slaves to build Mingun Pahtodawgyi, but Bodawpaya’s obsession with the stupa soon had a direct impact on his people and the state.
So those close to Bodawpaya began spreading rumors that if the building was completed the country would be destroyed or Bodawpaya would be killed. A deeply superstitious man, the King took heed and construction slowed down until he died in 1819 and the project was completely stopped.
Standing 164 feet high, Mingun Pahtodawgyi is a third of the height first envisioned. There are several large cracks in the walls from an earthquake in 1839, otherwise, it remains untouched and a favorite tourist site.
9. Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang
What was once imagined to be the crown of design in Pyongyang is now an empty building that has been through many different stages of construction. Ryugyong Hotel, also known as the “105 Building” and the “Hotel of Doom,” is a pyramid-shaped structure with 105 levels standing some 1,080 feet high. It was planned to feature five revolving restaurants and close to 3,000 rooms and apartments.
Building started in 1987 but was stopped in 1992 after North Korea suffered an economic crisis. Construction began again in 2008, with the exterior complete in 2012. It was scheduled to open in 2013 but was left empty, with the most recent addition to the unfinished building coming in 2018 when an LED display was added to one side of the building.
10. St. George’s, Bermuda
Known locally as the Unfinished Church, St. Geroge’s church was proposed as a replacement for St. Peter’s Church, which was destroyed in a hurricane. Like so many unfinished buildings, those responsible for the church encountered several problems, including lack of funds, fighting amongst the parish on the design of the church, and hurricane damage, with the building of the church abandoned in 1899.
Visitors can access the ruins of the church free of charge, with large arches and semi-finished walls still standing on the grounds where the church was to be built.
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11. Pyramid of Neferefre, Abusir
Nobody ever talks about the unfinished Pyramid of Neferefre. The pyramid from Ancient Egypt was built to house the body of the Egyptian pharaoh Neferefre. He unexpectedly passed away during the early construction of the pyramid. Not wanting to go against his wishes, he was still buried inside the great tomb, although it resembles a square structure as opposed to a mighty pyramid.
12. Deutsches Stadion, Nuremberg
Architect Albert Speer, a close ally of Adolf Hitler, is the man responsible for the Deutsches Stadion (German Stadium). Inspired by the Panathenaic Stadium of Athens, it was built in Nuremberg as a place for Hitler and the Nazi party to hold rallies. It was to be a horseshoe shape and seat 405,000 people, with construction getting underway in 1937.
But like so many plans the Nazis had, the Deutsches Stadion never reached completion. As World War II intensified and the German Army found itself on the back foot, the building was abandoned. The area was turned into a dump, with many hazardous materials being left there. It’s now a park where people can visit with a large lake that is off limits to swimmers due to the chemicals that have leaked into it from the waste dumped there decades earlier.
13. Palace of Soviets, Moscow
Vladimir Lenin is a divisive figure in history, but during the time of the Soviet Union, he was a much-loved figure. So much so that a 328-foot-tall statue of Lenin was to be built on top of a pyramid-like structure that would become the home of government in Moscow. The design for the building was chosen via a competition, with Boris Iofan coming up with the winning architectural plans.
The project started in 1933 but was quickly squashed when Russia entered the war. The materials that were going to be used for the building were instead directed toward the war effort, with leader Joesph Stalin losing interest in the Palace of Soviets once World War II came to an end.
Officially abandoned in 1957, the foundation was turned into a swimming pool that opened from 1958-1994. Between 1995-2000 a church was built on the grounds, with the Cathedral of Christ the Savior now occupying the site.
14. Ta Keo, Angkor
Jayavarman V was just ten years old when he became ruler of Cambodia. While he didn’t have much say in the way things were run during his early years as a leader, when he came of age and took charge at 17, he decided he wanted a monument built in his honor.
Named Ta Keo, it is the first temple built entirely out of sandstone, with large blocks making up the base and walls of the structure. It consists of five main areas with a 72-foot tall, five-sided pyramid in the center and a most that runs all the way around the complex.
When Jayavarman V died in 1001, construction on Ta Keo was halted. In later years inscriptions were found inside the temple detailing a lightning strike had hit the building, which is a bad omen, leading some historians to believe construction may have been stopped due to this and not Jayavarman’s death.
15. Bara Kaman, Bijapur
The fifth Sultan of the Bijapur Sultanate, Mohd Ali Adil Shah had dreams of building the greatest mausoleum ever built. He wanted it to eclipse his father’s tomb and intended it to have 12 arches constructed horizontally and vertically. Like so many unfinished buildings, construction finished when Mohd Ali Adil Shah passed away.
Only two of the arches were raised vertically while the 12 horizontal arches are still standing, along with several walls and assorted rooms. The bodies of Ali Adil Shah II, his wife Chand Bibi, his mistresses, and his daughters are buried in the tombs under Bara Kaman, which is looked after by the Archaeological Survey of India.
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