Five pre-millennial proposals for colossal towers that make today’s crop look microscopic in comparison.
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Between Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Tower, China’s Sky City, and the Azerbaijan Tower it’s difficult to keep track of which proposed superstructure will trump the Burj Khalifa as the world’s tallest building. Yes, the supertower is trending, and critics have lamented its recent rise as a sign of architects’—or developers’—egos run amuck.
But the obsession with tall buildings didn’t just start in the last decade. (Tower of Babel, anyone?) Aside from the Old Testament, architects have been designing record-shattering skyscrapers since at least the early 20th century. Envisioned to help metropolises deal with overcrowding and lack of space, these proposals reached such great heights that they put even the Burj Khalifa to shame. Here, we take a look at five pre-millennial proposals for colossal towers that make today’s crop look microscopic in comparison.
Sky City 10003,281 ft (1,000 m)Tokyo, 1989
When construction began on the Burj Khalifa in 2004, developers did not anticipate the global economic crisis that would hit three years later. But while the Burj eventually recovered from that setback—after suffering plummeting rents and numerous vacancies—Tokyo’s famed Sky City 1000 wasn’t so lucky.
Designed in 1989 to combat Japan’s staggeringly high land prices (the priciest in the world at the time), Sky City 1000 consisted of 196 floors housing 36,000 residents and nearly 100,000 workers. The design, by the Takenaka Corporation, included 14 “space plateaus” held up by parabolic supports. Each plateau was to include green spaces, apartments, offices, schools, theaters, and other facilities, effectively creating mini-cities on each level.
While the futuristic tower would have eased Tokyo’s exorbitant real estate prices, Sky City 1000 never took off due to Japan’s equally high price asset bubble crisis at the end of the decade.
The Illinois5,280 ft Frank Lloyd Wright Chicago, 1956
At the peak of Frank Lloyd Wright’s illustrious career in the mid-20th century, the revered architect proposed an astonishingly tall tower that was perhaps only rivaled in height by his ego. Though never intended to be built, the Illinois would have stood exactly one mile high, giving it its nickname, “The Mile High Illinois,” and appeared as in illustration in his 1956 book, “A Testament.”
Designed to combat Chicago’s growing urban sprawl, the Illinois’ 528 floors had space for 15,000 cars and 150 helicopters—though Wright’s embrace of automobiles seemed a little contradictory. Because high winds would have caused the tower to sway significantly, Wright proposed a tripod design and a tensioned steel frame to counteract any movement. Futuristic “atomic” powered elevators capable of mile-per-minute speeds would have propelled occupants to the top, while staircases were left out altogether. Like many of Wright’s other extravagant visionary proposals, the Illinois remains in the books; the design inspired the Burj Khalifa.
Shimizu Mega-City Pyramid6,575 ftDante Bini and David DimitricTokyo, 1996
To combat Tokyo’s growing lack of space and increasing population, Dante Bini and David Dimitric dreamed up the Shimizu Mega-City Pyramid, a mammoth structure that would have stood 14 times taller than its inspiration, the Great Pyramids of Giza.
To provide housing for a million people away from pricey land, the pyramid was designed to float over Tokyo Bay, and included every amenity found in industrialized cities. The design hung 24 30-story skyscrapers from the pyramid’s supporting structure, providing housing and office space, while incorporating a personal rapid transit system, inclined elevators, and accelerated walkways for transit.
To minimize its likewise massive impact on the environment, Shimizu’s design included photovoltaic mega-trusses to harness solar energy, combined with other sustainable power sources like pond algae. Unfortunately for Tokyo, the extremely lightweight materials required to float the mammoth city still do not exist to date.
Ultima Tower10,554 ftEugene TsuiSan Francisco, 1991
With its mystifying fog, hilly terrain, and relatively low cityscape, San Francisco is perhaps America’s most picturesque city. But if American architect Eugene Tsui had built his futuristic Ultima Tower, San Fran’s beauty would be completely trumped by an extraordinarily imposing two-mile high structure. Sloping exponentially toward the top, the tower’s design resembles an upside-down trumpet horn reaching 500 stories into the sky. Housing 1 million inhabitants of the sprawling San Francisco metropolis was intended to combat overpopulation and provide a sustainable mini-ecosystem to for residents by harnessing energy from atmospheric pressure differences between the base tower’s peak.
X-seed 400013,123 ftTaisei CorporationTokyo, 1995
Since the Tokyo megalopolis is ranked as the world’s most populous region, it’s no surprise that the tallest structure ever proposed would be located within its boundaries. However, the X-Seed 4000, standing at 13,123 feet, would have dwarfed even the world’s tallest mountains. (For those who are counting, that’s about three times the height of the Burj Khalifa.)
Designed by the Taisei Corporation, X-Seed’s form takes its inspiration from nearby Mount Fuji, which it would trump by nearly 1,000 feet. The design utilizes solar power for energy (though we’re not sure how it would harvest enough), and is intended to combine ultra-modern living and nature (though these details are a little blurry). Despite its volume, however, this literal mountain of a building would only host a comparatively dismal 500,000 to 1 million inhabitants. Like many supertall structures, X-Seed helped the Taisei Corporation gain recognition, and could probably never find the resources or manpower to be built.
Want more supertowers? See Huge Erections: What’s Driving The Rise Of The Supertower? and Architectural Elevations: Are You Afraid Of Heights?