The Best Buildings Never Built


Since the advent of the skyscraper, there have been thousands of proposals for tall buildings across the world. However, not all are built. In fact, most proposals are not built. Unfortunately, many great site proposals meet the brick wall of a recession, fail to win a competition for a site or are simply never carried out. This got us thinking, what are the greatest buildings never built?

Here are a couple of our favorite buildings that were never completed.

Disclaimer: This list does not include visionary projects that were never intended to be built, or never had a developer, architect and engineer in place to construct the structure.


Tatlin’s Tower (1919-1920) Vladimir Tatlin




The Monument to the Third International was designed to be the headquarters and grand monument of Lenin’s third international (Communist Party). Seemingly a marriage of the biblical Tower of Babel and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Tatlin’s Tower is a magnificent proposal of incredibly imaginative proportions.


Proposed to rise 1,312 feet (400 meters) in St. Petersburg, the double helix structure was to be made of industrial materials including iron, glass and steel to represent the technological power and modernity of the communist party. More than just striving to be tall, The Constructivist Monument to the Third International had style, subjective of course. Within the double-helix structure, four large geometric structures would have been suspended and rotated at different rates, with the base cube housing lectures, conferences and meetings. Each cube would serve different purposes, and rotate at different rates. The base cube would rotate at a rate of once a year, the second cube once a month, the third cube once a day and the top cube would rotate every hour.


Ultimately never built due to the bankruptcy of Russia and potentially the scale of the project, Tatlin’s Tower could be the most interesting-looking building on this list. We’ll leave the decision as to whether the tower is positively interesting looking or negative to you.


Palace of the Soviets (1937-1941)


Nothing represents the power of the people better than constructing the tallest building in the world in the name of administrating to their needs. However, just like Communism, the Palace of the Soviets was a great idea that never came to fruition.

Proposed to be built near the Kremlin, this Palace was the result of an architectural contest, which saw Boris Iofan’s idea win. Slated to rise 1,624 feet (495 meters) to the Antenna Spire and 1,362 (415 meters) to the roof, this 100 floor building began construction in 1937, but was stopped in 1941, and its materials were repurposed for fortifications, bridges and other infrastructure to help fight off the German Invasion of 1941.


The main hall of the beautiful Neo-classical Moscow Congress would have had seating capacity for 21,000 comrades. Although never built, the abandoned remains of the tower went on to break another record, but nor for the tallest building in the world. The Moskova Pool, completed in 1958, would break the record for the world’s largest outdoor swimming pool. However, like the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour (1905), the pool was eventually demolished in order to rebuild the cathedral, completed in 2000.

Original Cathedral of Christ the Saviour                     WikiMedia Commons


Illinois Tower (1956-57) Frank Lloyd Wright


The Mile High Tower, or the Illinois Sky City (alternative names for the Illinois Tower),  was the tallest building ever imagined by the prolific American Architect Frank Lloyd Wright. As one of the pseudonyms details, The Illinois was proposed in 1956 as a mile high tower, 5,680 feet (1,730 meters) to the spire and 5,280 feet (1,610 meters) to the roof. With 528 proposed floors, 76 elevators and 18,460,000 square feet of space, The Illinois Office Tower would have been a city worth of office space within itself.

Designed to be constructed in a park, Wright did not envision hordes of people commuting to the tower by car as he only allocated 100 parking spaces, but instead pictured workers flying in on helicopters, biking or walking through The Illinois Sky-City park.


While never built, the legacy of The Illinois lives on, perhaps the most so of any of these unbuilt visionary buildings. The sheer scale of the tower with it’s sleek design, paired with FLW’s name would be enough for us to remember this building for generations. However, there are in fact tangible aspects of Wright’s tower that can be seen today, and are being constructed for the future.

Sons of Chicago, Adrian D. Smith and Gordon Gill with their firm Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill based in Chicago, have designed two mega-tall buildings drawing inspiration from Wright’s Illinois tower. Using the building that would have risen in their backyard as inspiration, The Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world located in Dubai and Jeddah (Kingdom) Tower located in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the future tallest building in the world, take strong design cues on The Illinois Tower. In fact, Jeddah Tower looks nearly identical to Wright’s vision and had the same name (Mile High Tower) for a time. Rising 2,722 feet (830 meters) in Dubai and a proposed 3,307 feet (1,008 meters) in Saudi Arabia respectively, The Burj Khalifa and Jeddah Tower have allowed the Illinois Tower to live on and Wright’s legacy to endure.

Jeddah Tower (Left), Burj Khalifa (Right)


Chicago Spire (2007-08) Santiago Calatrava


Proposed as the next great building in the birthplace of the modern day skyscraper, the Chicago Spire would have soared 2,000 feet into the sky, or 600 meters for those of you on the metric system. Reaching Megatall status, Santiago Calatrava’s spire drew inspiration from smoke fires lit by the indigenous Native Americans who lived on the banks of the Chicago River.


Developed by Shelbourne Development Group, there were to be 1,193 condominiums spread across the 150 floors of the spire, with the most expensive unit going for a record setting $40,000,000. Twisting 2.4 degrees each floor, the graceful rotation of the building would have offered unparalleled views of the windy city in a residential development.


Alas, the 2008 Financial crisis struck and Shelbourne was never able to finance the completion of the Megatall, leaving us with noting but a hole in the ground at 400 N Lake Shore Drive, 3,000,000 square feet of imaginary floor area and the dream of what Chicago could’ve looked like with this catalyst of development.


Nakheel Tower (2008-09) Woods Bagot


In a city that embodies the mantra “reach for the sky,” the proposal of the Nakheel Tower certainly did not let down Dubai. With construction starting in 2008, the Nakheel Tower, Neé Al Burj, had ambitions of climbing 200 stories to 1 kilometer high at 3,280 feet. Developed by Nakheel Properties, the design in its final form was the fourth rendition of the plan, an unstable development from the start.

Nakheel Tower was  planned to be the jewel of the Nakheel Harbour District. Master-Planned and Designed by Woods Bagot to honor Islamic monuments from antiquity to the modern day, Nakheel Harbour would draw inspiration from the gardens of Alhambra, the promenade of Tangier, the magnificent Safavid capital of Isfahan and the Harbour of Alexandria, leading to a $38 billion price tag.


But just like the prior plans and architects that came before Woods Bagot and the Nakheel Tower, the building was ultimately cancelled in 2009 due to the global financial recession and lack of financing.

One Dubai (2008-09)

Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill

While reading this list, one might assume that Dubai is unable to construct a tall building because of the sheer amount of high-profile developments cancelled in recent years. It just goes to show how tough developing a building is, especially one with super-tall or mega-tall ambitions.

One Dubai, not to be confused with Dubai One, was set to be the centerpiece of Meraas Development’s $95. 28 billion Jumeirah Gardens Development. In Dubai, it seems as though whenever a new neighborhood is created, the developers look to the sky to complete their project. Similar to Rockefeller Center in New York, which surrounds Raymond Hood’s masterpiece, 30 Rock, Development in Dubai is often centered around ambitious super-tall projects that can put a neighborhood on the map. Some of these projects are wildly successful like the Burj Khalifa in Downtown Dubai. Others, such as the aforementioned Nakheel Tower in the Nakheel Harbour neighborhood, never  make it above ground.

Comprised of three separate towers connected by glass skybridges, One Dubai was poised to raise 3,307 feet (1008 meters) at its peak 201st floor in Tower A. Tower B and C were to rise 2,867 (874 meters) and 2,247 feet (685 meters) respectively. The gorgeous design by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill, replete with grand arched entry-ways (drawing inspiration from classic Islamic Architecture) and an elevated central atrium space allowing boats to pass underneath the building, is incredible because it makes Tower C look small. In reality, Tower C of the complex would be the second tallest building in the world if it were completed (third behind the rising Jeddah Tower.)

The Mixed-Use Development would have included over 8.6 million square feet of space upon completion, but was ultimately cancelled in March of 2009.

India Tower (2010-2011) Foster and Partners


The first super-tall proposed in India, Foster and Partners & Dynamix Balwas Realty’s India Tower was set to rise 2,321 feet (707.5 meters) and 126 stories. Originally named the Park Hyatt Tower and DB Tower, ground broke in 2010 on the building, but was put on hold shortly afterward due to a dispute between Dynamix Balwas and the municipal authorities of Mumbai. Ultimately, the tower was cancelled in 2015 and we’ll have to wait an unknown time before the second largest country in the world by population gets it’s first super-tall.

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 8.08.47 PM.png


Russia Tower (Proposed 2006, 2007-09)

Foster + Partners


Planned for the Moscow International Business Center, the Shard-like super-tall developed by Russian Land had aspirations of climbing 2,008 feet (612 meters) to mega-tall status.

As the Shard and the Tower were being built and proposed around the same time, it is hard to say which tower drew inspiration upon the other, if either, but the resemblance between these two super-talls is uncanny.


The Russia Tower was proposed numerous times, with the first edition dating back to 1992. This design was produced by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and was to be 2,123 feet (648 meters) tall with 134 stories and claim the title of the tallest building in the world at the time. Changing ownership hands from Olympia & York to the STT Group (The Moscow Development Company) to Sibir energy to finally Russian Land, the tower was redesigned with every new ownership group.

Currently, the site of the Russia Tower is a parking garage as it was never able to be developed due to the 2008 financial crisis (an unfortunate theme.) We do hope that Russia gets its Eponymous tower and that the site can be maximized to its full potential, the country has been waiting through much developmental and architectural instability regarding the project for more than 20 years!


There’s our list, do you agree, disagree? Leave your responses in the comments below and they may be featured on our next segment of The Best Buildings Never Built.




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