Historical images of notable structures being built
The most iconic buildings in the world, whether they took record time to build or took more than a century, are now so ingrained in the landscape that it can be challenging to imagine the frequently superhuman efforts needed to bring them into existence. These old pictures show some of the most famous monuments before they became famous icons.
The Brooklyn Bridge in New York, which was finished in 1883, used sealed and pressurized caissons to enable construction workers to dig the foundations below sea level. The Hegelian idea of opposites in tension is said to have served as inspiration for the bridge’s revolutionary steel cable construction, which was created by John Augustus Roebling. Early in the process, Roebling tragically passed away from tetanus; his son Washington, who took over the project, eventually became crippled from decompression sickness; and at least 20 additional workers perished throughout the course of construction.
The Sagrada Famlia Basilica in Barcelona, which was begun in 1882, was shortly taken over by Antoni Gaud, who the architects of the time referred to as a “genius or a maniac,” with an ambitious plan for the church of the future. The project would not be finished for at least another century, with construction still going on today, even after he passed away in 1926. One of Europe’s most well-liked tourist destinations, it is a mass of spires and organic forms, and Gaud’s creation is now designated as a cultural site in the World Heritage list.
Statue of Liberty
Pro-abolitionist Édouard Lefebvre de Laboulaye and sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi came up with the idea for the Statue of Liberty, which was created as a homage to the abolition of slavery in the United States. The “two pennies thick” copper figure’s construction started in France in 1876, when it was entirely built before being disassembled and sent to America. A group of recent immigrants finished the reassembly on Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor in 1886 utilizing cranes and derricks rather than scaffolding.
Just two years after the first shovel of dirt was turned in 1887, the Eiffel Tower—a technological marvel of its era—was finished. Each of the 300-metre (1,000-foot) structure’s sections was meticulously traced out at the neighboring factory and comprised 2.5 million rivets, 7,300 tonnes of iron, and 60 tonnes of paint. The tower attracted more than 2 million people during the 1889 World’s Fair, although not receiving universal praise—a group of French literati criticized the tower as “a terrible street lamp” and “hole-riddled suppository.”
The Salt Lake Temple (of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) was constructed in 1853, but before the transcontinental railway arrived in Utah, construction was laborious and required oxen to pull enormous blocks of granite for the five-meter-thick (16-foot) foundation walls. After an earthquake injured the gold-leaf statue of the Angel Moroni perched atop its tallest tower, the 1893-completed neo-gothic building is currently receiving substantial seismic modifications.
Watkin’s Tower, a former rival to the Eiffel Tower that remained unfinished and was finally buried in the stadium’s foundations, was erected on the site of the original Wembley Stadium. Wembley Stadium, which was initially constructed to accommodate the British Empire Exhibition of 1924–25, later served as the official home of the British football team until the turn of the century, when it, too, was destroyed to make room for a new Wembley Stadium. The original Wembley had twin towers at the entrance that were unique and made of more than 25,000 tones of concrete.
The construction of the Panama Canal required three decades, three nations, a revolution, an estimated 27,000 fatalities, untold injuries, a medical breakthrough, the flooding of vast forests, and the movement of one million cubic meters of soil. It cost US$375 million when it was completed in 1914, making it the most costly construction project in the United States at the time. One of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, it is.
Empire State Building
The Great Depression-era staff of 3,400 people built New York City’s Empire State Building in under one year at a rate of 4.5 stories per week. At the time of its completion in 1931, the Art Deco skyscraper, which stands 381 meters (1,250 feet) tall and was constructed of tens of thousands of tonnes of steel, aluminum, limestone, granite, and brick, as well as a final rivet made of real gold, was the tallest structure in the world.
Golden Gate Bridge
In order to eliminate the high death rate that was accepted as normal among “bridgemen,” Joseph Strauss, the engineer of San Francisco’s famed Golden Gate Bridge, required full safety gear for his workers in 1933. His employees were provided with hardhats, respirators, goggles, safety lines, netting, anti-chafing cream, and more. A field hospital was also set up nearby. Nevertheless, during the building of the bridge, 11 workers lost their lives, 10 of them as a result of the safety net failing.
Gutzon Borglum, a member of the Ku Klux Klan and the son of Mormon polygamists, dynamited more than 400,000 tons of rock to build the memorial, which was finished in 1941. It features the faces of U.S. presidents Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, and Roosevelt standing at 18 meters (60 feet) tall. The likenesses of four American presidents on what is now known as Mount Rushmore sparked controversy that persists to this day—and that’s without addressing the prospect of adding a fifth president’s face. They were carved into the sacred Black Hills of Lakota Sioux territory.
Crazy Horse Memorial
The world’s largest monument—in theory—stands unfinished more than 70 years since it was begun, a carved visage in a mountaintop just 27 kilometres (17 miles) from Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski conceived the controversial project as a tribute to Oglala Lakota leader Tasunke Witko, also known as Crazy Horse: “I want to right a little bit of the wrong that they did to these people,” Ziolkowski said. He is buried there today and his family continues the effort with only donations and admission fees, refusing government funding.
In 1961, the wall between East and West Berlin appeared out of nowhere and over night, becoming an ominous representation of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States and their respective allies. Before West Berlin’s fall in 1989, it started as two adjacent cinder-block walls that were topped with barbed wire and watchtowers and heavily guarded with guns, guard dogs, and mines to prevent East Berliners from escaping to the West. Eventually, it transformed into a concrete wall that completely encircled West Berlin.
The 1964 completion of the BT Tower, also known as the GPO Tower, Post Office Tower, and Museum Tower, made it the highest structure in the United Kingdom at the time and a notable landmark of the London skyline. The tower’s cylindrical design aids in its ability to tolerate movement in strong winds, which is important for the aerials that continue to serve as the major hub for the country’s TV transmissions. In 2001, it was designated as a national monument.
Cathedral of Brasília
After 12 years of construction, the Cathedral of Brasilia was finally finished in 1970. 16 parabolic concrete columns that are clasped together like outstretched hands and connected by enormous stained glass windows make up the towering edifice. The cathedral, which is regarded as one of the greatest works of architect Oscar Niemeyer, stretched the limits of structural engineering at the time and required new methods to realize his vision.
As the tallest free-standing building in the world and a prominent feature of Toronto’s skyline, the CN tower was built in 1976 and stands an impressive 553 meters (1,815 feet) tall. Due to its height, Toronto still has some of North America’s finest coverage because to the telecommunications tower’s great line of sight across the city. The American Society of Civil Engineers named it one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World in 1995.
Sydney Opera House
The Sydney Opera House’s smooth, elevated forms conceal the bloated nature of the project’s implementation. By the time it was finished in 1973, the initial cost estimate had increased more than tenfold to A$102 million (US$720 million in 2020), a procedure that required 10,000 workers and 14 years, which was 10 years longer than anticipated. The Australian icon is now entirely restored as a World Heritage Site that receives approximately 11 million visitors each year.
Peter the Great Statue
The eighth-largest statue in the world, which is located in Central Moscow and is just slightly taller than the Statue of Liberty at 98 meters (322 ft), honors Tsar Peter the Great (1682-1725) and the 300th anniversary of the Russian naval he formed. The monument of the Russian emperor perched on a ship, constructed of 600 tonnes of stainless steel, bronze, and copper, has generated controversy since it was erected in 1997, not least because Peter the Great was well-known to despise Moscow.
London’s O2 Arena (formerly the Millennium Dome) is the world’s largest dome. Completed in 2000, the enclosed space is large enough to form its own weather systems, were it not for the Teflon-coated fabric roof; the air within weighs more than the structure itself. Originally conceived by the British government to house an ill-fated exhibition to usher in the new millennium, it was reinvented in 2007 to become the world’s most popular music venue.
Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía
The Valencia Opera House, with its four distinct performance spaces, is housed in the Palau de les Arts, which was created by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. After ten years of building, the modern architectural masterpiece—whose curved, floating outlines resemble a ship clutched by shells—was finished in 2006. At the time, Calatrava called it “the most intense” undertaking of his career.
Statue of Unity
In Gujarat, India, by the Narmada River, the tallest statue in the world was built in 2018. It took more than 2,000 people and 12,000 bronze panels to finish. The statue of Indian independence leader Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel is nearly twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty at 182 meters (approximately 600 feet). The Statue of Unity is a monument that can survive strong winds and earthquakes thanks to two enormous concrete cores that are fixed inside its steel frame.