Ever since the first skyscraper was completed at the end of the 19th-century, architects have competed for their buildings to hold the title of “Worlds Tallest Building”. A completed skyscraper stands as an example of mankind’s incredible ambition, creativity and execution. Yet, some architects seem to have an excess of ambition and creativity, and the result is their skyscraper never being built. Today we will be talking about the most impressive and absurd of the skyscrapers that never were.
1. THE ULTIMATE SKYSCRAPER
Let’s kick off with the only American entry, Ultima Tower, the second-tallest building on our list. The Ultima was designed in 1991 by an American architect named Eugene Tsui, with plans to build it in the San Francisco Bay. It would stand 3218 meters (10,558 ft) tall, with 500 stories housing 1 million inhabitants in its 1.5 billion square feet of space. Its base would be circular, with a diameter of 1828 meters (6,000 ft). The building’s shape was modeled after termite nests because, as the design team explained, they are the largest structures built by any non-human living creature.
The Ultima is, of course, a skyscraper, but it’s also an example of arcology, meaning it’s so large that it has its own ecosystem. Considering it would stand over two miles high, the building required a system to stabilize air pressure. The designers hoped to harness the imbalance in air pressure to generate energy using a never-before-used system called Atmospheric Energy Conversion, though it would also generate electricity with solar panels, wind turbines, and converted sea algae.
While living in a massive structure may seem removed from nature, Tsui was determined to create a natural environment inside. His plans stated that the building would contain four of the worlds largest waterfalls, and that there would be plenty of outdoor areas for humans and animals to roam. Each apartment would be 100 feet by 100 feet, which sounds quite spacious, except that half of that space would be taken up by natural vegetation. In order to provide natural light for this vegetation to thrive, the central core of the building would be hollow with mirrored walls, as Tsui believed this would evenly distribute sunlight throughout the buildings interior rooms.
The structure would be connected to San Francisco and Oakland by two six-lane bridges, each one leading to a twenty-story parking structure below the building. While this may sound like a convenient spot to park your vehicle, you would only be given access if your car ran on electricity, propane, or hydrogen. Once inside, the quickest way around would be to take a taxi, electric of course, which Tsui specified would be funded by the Home Owners’ Association.
2. THE GREAT PYRAMID OF TOKYO
Our next megastructure takes us to Japan, the proposed site of the Shimizu TRY 2004 Mega-City Pyramid. The Mega-City Pyramid was conceived in 1996 with plans to build it in Tokyo Bay. The Megacity was inspired by the Pyramids of Giza, but would stand over 14 times taller at 2004 meters (6,575 f). Its base would flare outwards to cover an area of 10 square miles, or about 3.2 by 3.2 miles.
The pyramid would be made up of five gigantic trusses, all providing support for 204 smaller pyramids, each one the size of the Luxor in Las Vegas. The incredible scale and weight of the building would be too large for materials that currently exist, so the construction is dependent on the future availability of superstrength and lightweight materials based on carbon nanotubes which are currently being researched. It would be built on 36 massive concrete piers, though some engineers doubt that even the strongest concrete available could support such a structure.
The pyramid was designed to house 1 million inhabitants and provide office space for 800,000 of them. One of the design team’s main concerns was transportation through the pyramid, so they included moving walkways, high-speed elevators, and lateral-moving pod-based transportation system.
The company claims that building will begin by 2030, though analysts see that as an impossible target as, again, the materials required have yet to be invented. Still, the company has stated that they expect the megastructure to be completed in the year 2110.
3. The Eiffel-Like Tower
Any conversation about skyscrapers is incomplete without at least one entry from Dubai, which leads us to the Dubai City Tower. The Dubai City Tower was announced in 2008 during the final moments of the pre-financial crisis construction boom. It would stand 2,400 meters (7900 ft) tall with 400 floors. The design was inspired by the Eiffel Tower, as it included six exterior structures winding around and eventually joining with one central structure at varying heights. Besides their aesthetic appeal, the exterior structures would disperse the building’s weight across a wider area, providing for a more stable base.
Each 100 floor section of the building would include a distinct neighborhood with its own design style, as well as essential services like grocery stores and restaurants. The top 400 meters of the building incorporated a wind turbine, and many other energy harvesting structures were included on the building. While many of the skyscrapers on this list use elevators to get from floor to floor, this one would use vertical high-speed trains traveling at speeds of 200 km/h.
The construction of Dubai City Tower was considered a real possibility before the global crash of 08-09, and the project site was set to be Jumeirah City, an oceanside section of Dubai near the Palm Jumeirah and The World Islands, which we spoke about in-depth on our other channel. Some optimists, or egoists, still believe this building will be built one day. However, it looks unlikely, as Dubai’s construction industry is making up lost ground on many other higher priority projects at this time.
4. The Spinning Tower
Let’s stay in Dubai for a project that many people believe will be built one day. It’s called the Dynamic Tower, and it would stand at a reasonable 420 meters (1378 feet), making it the only entry on this list less than a mile high, and shorter than many buildings already in existence. So, what makes this little tower so interesting?
Well, each floor of the Dynamic Tower is able to rotate 360 degrees, independent of the floors above and below it. Every single one of the 80 floors would be able to complete a full rotation in 3 hours, meaning that the outer edge of the building would travel 6 meters per minute when moving full speed. The rotation is controlled by voice command, and those in charge can determine the speed and direction of the rotation. However, it’s unclear how many people will live on each floor of the building, and who would be in charge of its rotation if each floor contains more than one residence. Still, the image of a moving building is intriguing, and digital 3D models of the building show just how beautiful the structure could be.
The second innovation of this building is that it’s meant to be the first ever prefabricated skyscraper. While the core of the tower would be built on-site, about 90 percent of the building could be built in off-site factories. Each floor consists of 40 individual parts, which can be constructed and assembled off-site before being shipped to the construction area where they would be added to the core. The projects designer, David Fisher, claims this would reduce material and labor costs, and could allow for the project to be completed about 30 percent faster than projects of a similar size.
The Dynamic Tower was announced in 2008, and Fisher claimed it would be completed by 2010, though he refused to say where, as he wanted it to be surprise. Of course, it was not completed then. However, after almost a decade of dormancy, talk of the project picked up again in 2018. The rumor was that the Dynamic Tower would be built in Dubai in the year 2020, but, well, it’s now 2020 and no one knows of any material progress in its construction. Perhaps the Dynamic Tower could be built one day, but one of the main concerns is that, by his own admission, the architect is not well-known, has never built a skyscraper, and hasn’t worked regularly in architecture for decades. I’m sure it would be a sight to behold if it is ever built, but we’re not holding our breath on this one.
5. Mount Fuji 2.0
Our final and tallest entry is the X-Seed 4000, a skyscraper designed by the Taisei Construction Corporation in 1995. The design was inspired by Mt. Fuji, and the scale is quite similar. The final height of the building was set at 4 km (2.5 mi) tall, just about 250 m taller than the mountain that inspired it. It’s base would be 6 km (3.7 mi) wide, and the entire structure would be located inside Tokyo Bay, though there may not be space for it next to the Mega-City Pyramid. If you’re wondering why so many of these buildings were supposed to be built in bays, the main reason is that unused land, especially large and stable enough for such massive projects, is hard to find in densely populated cities like San Francisco and Tokyo.
The X-Seed’s design included 800 floors, and was meant to house anywhere from 750,000 to 1 million inhabitants. Though the details aren’t as clear as the Ultima, the X-Seed was meant to include vast areas of nature parks and wildlife to give its inhabitants some room to get some fresh air, all while inside the building. The designs also included zones for retail and commercial office space, so you could stroll through the park on the way to work without ever leaving your apartment building. Instead of elevators, the architects included vertical MagLev trains, as a normal speed elevator could take 15 or more minutes to ascend to the top floor.
Due to the incredible 12,000 foot increase from the bottom to top floor, the plan was to include a means of stabilizing the air pressure in the upper reaches of the building to allow for a normal oxygen supply. So, like the Ultima, X-Seed was classified as an arcology project, as the architecture calls for its own unique ecosystem. The goal of the building was to completely supply its own energy use by way of photovoltaic solar pannels, though engineers speculated that a building of this scale would not be able to do so without dedicated entire floors of the building to energy harvesting and storage.
X-Seed is considered the largest thoroughly-designed building ever conceived, though critics point out that the building was never meant to be built, and that it was designed as a publicity stunt for Taisei Corporation. Whether or not it worked, Taisei Corporation is still in business to this day, though the tallest of their buildings is less than ten-percent the size of the X-Seed 4000.