The world's weirdest skyscrapers – in pictures: From the Elephant Building to the ‘Death Star’, architects and developers are going to ever stranger lengths in their efforts to stand out from the crowd. Where will this ridiculousness end? Click all pictures to enlarge.
Above - Elephant Building, Bangkok: Designed in 1997 by one of Thailand’s most celebrated architects, Sumet Jumasi, this triple-towered oddity pays homage to his country’s national animal. Boasting 32 storeys of offices, shops and luxury apartments, the building’s ‘ears’ are multi-storey balconies while the tusks are home to its management company.
Porsche Design Tower, Miami: Amazingly, America’s ‘cars in towers’ narrative is not done yet. Porsche – better known as manufacturers of flashy sports cars – is building a 60-storey skyscraper in Miami. But rather than regular ground-level or subterranean parking, the pièce de résistance of this $560m building is its three drive-in elevators. When the building is completed next year, its drive-in lifts will allow residents to bring their beloved vehicles right up to their apartments. Apparently there’s space for up to four cars in some units.
Umeda Sky Building, Osaka: Osaka’s 19th-tallest building consists of two 40-storey towers connected by a ‘floating garden observatory’ on the top two floors. But just for a bit of added fun, the empty space between the buildings is criss-crossed by the world’s highest glass escalator. Those suffering from vertigo may wish to look away now.
Castalia, The Hague: In the Netherlands, this pair of towers is desperate to blend in with its nation’s architectural heritage – not easy when you’re 104 metres tall. Constructed in 1998 using the core of an older building, the renovation added a 35m Dutch gabled roof on each tower – purely for decoration. Home to the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, Castalia is more fondly known as ‘the tits’ of Den Haag, thanks to those perky rooftops.
Abraj Al-Bait Towers, Mecca: Rising over the holy mosque of Mecca in western Saudi Arabia, this 600m Big Ben copy (also known as the Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel) is the third tallest building in the world – with the world’s largest clock face, naturally. The tower looms over what was once a desert but is now home to luxury apartments, shopping malls and hotels for all the pilgrims who travel to this holiest of sites at this time every year.
Aqua, Chicago: Designed by American architect Jeanne Gang in the city that invented the skyscraper, Chicago’s 82-storey Aqua tower happens to be the tallest building in the world designed by a woman – but that’s not why we’re including it. To capture the urban views, balconies jut out into the sky giving the tower its undulating figure, resisting the angular typologies of Chicago’s traditional tower design.
Tianzi Hotel, Langfang: This bizarre 10-storey creation made it into the Guiness Book of Records for being the world’s ‘biggest image building’. Perhaps not a skyscraper in the traditional sense, the beaming depictions of Fu, Lu and Shou (Chinese gods of fortune, prosperity and longevity) certainly stand out against the skyline. Enter the hotel through the white bearded fellow’s right foot, and take a nap in the hotel’s most luxurious suite – located in his giant peach.
Robot Building, Bangkok: Just down the road from the Elephant Building, architect Sumet Jumasi designed the HQ of the United Overseas Bank as a 20-storey robot representing the computerisation of banking and friendly face of modern technology. Every feature of this android has a practical use: the eyelids are sunshades, the eyes are meeting rooms, and the antennae are lightning rods. Jumasi said his robot was a protest against ‘bland international style in architecture’.
AlDar Headquarters, Abu Dhabi: The United Arab Emirates boasts the world’s tallest skyscraper, the 830m Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and now is also home to the world’s first circular skyscraper. No longer restricted to using steel-frame technology to create tall, straight towers, the UAE-based MZ Architects have built a revolutionary ‘stacked dinner plate’ prototype – at a cost of around £1bn.
Antilia building, Mumbai: The 27-storey private residence of Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, was named after a mythical island in the Atlantic, and is said to have more floor space than the Palace of Versailles. The building boasts three helicopter pads, underground parking for 160 cars, and requires some 600 staff to run it – all for a family of five.
Fake Hills, Beihai : Is your overly flat city in need of some rolling hills? Why not just build them, as the Chinese coastal town of Beihai did. This ‘does what it says on the tin’ residential development, designed by MAD Architects, combines high-rise and groundscraper typology to emulate mother nature’s contours in what is otherwise a very low-level city.
Lippo Centre, Hong Kong: Nicknamed the Koala Buildings for the way their extrusions cling to the glass towers, American architect Paul Rudolph – best known for his brutalist concrete structures – hoped to make this skyscraper a little less ominous by adding the C-shaped extensions to Lippo’s exterior. Instead he made it look like something straight our of Transformers.
Sutyagin House, Arkhangelsk: Wooden skyscrapers could be the future of flat-pack cities, but one man in Russia set the precedent almost 25 years ago. Nikolai Sutyagin (a former gangster) spent more than 15 years piecing together this wooden house on the outskirts of Arkhangelsk, continuously adding new levels until it grew to 13 storeys. Without a permit for his precariously balanced structure, the building’s tower was demolished a few years ago, and the remaining four storeys burned to the ground shortly afterwards.
‘Cell Phone Building’, Kunming: Despite appearances, this 11-storey building in China’s southern Yunnan province is actually quite functional. The screen is the upper-storey window for the penthouse office, while the buttons let light into the lower offices. But we can’t help thinking this old-school handset is due an upgrade by now.
Marina City, Chicago: In the 1960s, when the US’s obsession for the automobile was in full swing, architect Bertrand Goldberg designed these two, 65-storey residential towers with no fewer than 896 parking spaces inside each one. Incredibly, the lower 19 floors of the skyscrapers still house nothing more than a spiral parking ramp. With Chicago now facing an affordable housing crisis, maybe it’s time to put the cars outside?
Cross Towers, Seoul: Danish studio BIG (architects of the New York Dry Line) has proposed the godfather of all clickbait architecture for South Korea’s Yongsan Business District development: ‘the Hashtag’ skyscraper. Designed to get around height regulations while maximising density, the two high-rises are connected by horizontal towers, forming a hash. Although still waiting for the green light, it seems only a matter of time before this #bigdream becomes a #bigreality.
Tower Infinity, Seoul: Also coming soon in Seoul, the 450m Tower Infinity was dubbed the world’s first ‘invisible tower’ by its designers, GDS Architects. Projectors and cameras on the façade will capture the view around the skyscraper before stitching them together in a real-time display, giving an illusion of invisibility – perhaps not the best idea given the tower’s location, right next to Seoul’s Incheon Airport.
Full Moon Tower, Baku: With AlDar’s headquarters having set the precedent for disk-shaped skyscrapers, the Azerbaijani capital will soon be home to not one but two new massive rotund buildings – known as the Full Moon and Crescent Moon hotels. Designed by South Korean firm Heerim Architects, some are suggesting the Full Moon Hotel – with its indented hole and slick facade – took inspiration from the Death Star in Star Wars.
Phoenix Towers, Wuhan: The British architects Chetwoods has unveiled plans for this pair of skyscrapers in the Chinese city of Wuhan. When completed, the taller of these colourful towers should top the Burj Khalifa by 172m, and is intended to beat Saudi Arabia’s impending Kingdom Tower to the title of world’s tallest building when it opens in 2017/18. As if that’s not enough, the smaller tower promises to house the world’s tallest garden.