We can’t help but think of the lost dreams and hopes many of these structures have come to represent. A sad memorial to a dream. Some have been filled with squatters, others glassed over, and with some there remains potential for a rebirth. From Bangkok to Detroit and Beirut to Mexico City, here are the the 8 Tallest Abandoned Skyscrapers in the World.
1. The Ryugyong
Would you stay in a North Korean tower “affectionately” called the Hotel of Doom? We wouldn’t, either. That’s 105 floors of pure scary.
Back in 1988, South Korea was hosting the Olympics, and that made North Korean dictator Kim Il-Sung seethe. So the year before Seoul’s summer games. He calls up his pals in Moscow and he says, he says, “Can you loan me a bit of cash to build the tallest hotel in the world?” And the boys in the Kremlin, they say, “Yeah, suresies.”
And with Russia writing the cheques, work begins. The ambitious goal is to open in 1989. Yeah, right.
Work continues, and finally the structure is built, but with no windows and nothing inside.
Then in 1992 the Soviet Union collapses, and the cheques stop coming. Work on the mighty Ryungyong hotel ceases, leaving it little more than an empty concrete shell. A lot of things in North Korea cease around that time, actually. Famine strikes. Over 3.5 million North Koreans die.
For a long time, what Esquire magazine called “the worst building in the history of mankind” sits empty like a crashed spaceship in downtown Pyongyang. It turns out the empty concrete shell was made with pretty crappy concrete, and by the late 90’s it’s starting to fall apart.
Yet there it sat for 16 years until in 2008 an Egyptian company drives up a convoy of trucks packed with a crapload of money, and as they set up a mobile phone network they put a new shell on the empty hotel. This one is made of glass. They also bedeck it with telecommunications towers.
It was supposed to open as a hotel in 2012, but didn’t. In 2013 a partial opening was cancelled. The world’s outrage at North Korea’s nuclear tests that year might have played a role. Or maybe that there aren’t enough North Koreans with enough money to afford to fill the 3,000 rooms in the hotel may have been a factor. Work stops again.
But wait, there’s still life in the old girl yet. In 2016 there are signs of renewed work on the tower, and in 2018 a big LED display showing the North Korean flag appears on the top.
It’s possible that even as North Korea’s population continues to starve, someone is willing to pump more money into completing the monstrosity. Although if it does finally open, it’s unclear who’s allowed into the country to stay the night.
2. Fontainebleau Resort
United States, 735 feet (224m) and 68 floors.
If you construct a giant, high-end resort to Las Vegas, what’s your worst nightmare? How about opening in 2009 during the Great Recession in a city with a 14% unemployment rate?
It seemed like a good idea at the time. The Fountainebleau Resort in Miami is an historic landmark — it even appeared in the James Bond movie Goldfinger — and the Las Vegas Fountainebleau was going to be its sister hotel.
All the planets seemed aligned to make it happen. The downtown site used to hold two hotels: the El Rancho that was imploded in 2000 to make room for a new London-themed hotel, and the Algiers, which was meant to be replaced by high-rise condos.
A bit of economic trouble after the 911 attacks stalled both projects, and created opportunity. The land was purchased and the Fountainebleau Resort Las Vegas in 2005.
Construction began in 2007 on a $2.8 billion, 63-storey tower holding 3,889 hotel and condo units and a 9300 square meter (100,000 sq ft) casino.
It was about 70% complete when Fountainebleau went bankrupt in 2009. The 6,000 jobs it was supposed to create never materialized. All that was left was a giant, unfinished eyesore along the Vegas strip on land that was worth a third of what it was two years earlier.
But where some people see a symbol of hubris, others see a good bargain. The site was purchased at a steal by investment firms in 2017, and in 2018 plans were announced to build The Drew, a Mariott resort containing three separate hotels, along with casino and convention space.
Now those are high stakes.
3. Torre David
Venezuela, 623 feet (190m) and 45 floors.
Standing at 190 meters tall, the Torre (Tower of) David is an abandoned reminder that nothing good lasts forever.
In the 1980s, things looked pretty stellar for the Venezuelan banks. A banker named David Brillembourg spearheaded the construction of the Centro Financiero Confinanzas, a banking complex in Caracas.
But a double whammy of rotten luck struck, and in 1993 Brillembourg died followed by the collapse of the Venezuelan banking system the next year meant finances dried up and construction came to a screaming halt.
The partially completed tower — nothing but a concrete skeleton with some parts covered with but otherwise open to the elements — lurked empty in downtown Carasas for a long time.
After a failed attempt by the government to auction it off, it became home to a community of squatters in 2007. The incomplete building became known as the Torre de David, or the Tower of David, and it is estimated that upwards of 5000 people called the tower home, turning it into the world’s largest vertical slum.
Allegedly ruled for years by a gangster, the squatters enjoyed the Tower of David for years, until being forcibly evicted in 2015 to make room for a rumored Chinese redevelopment. Now the place sits empty once more. The Chinese are nowhere to be seen.
4. Sathorn Unique Tower
Thailand, 607 feet (185m) and 49 floors.
There are several reasons to steer clear of the Sathorn Unique Tower in Bangkok. If you’re scared of ghosts, it’s supposed to be home to several of them so there’s one reason. If you don’t like being hit by falling trash, there’s another reason: when it rains, all kinds of debris get washed down from the upper floors.
But there are also reasons to go there, if you’re the adventurous sort. The 80% finished skyscraper is a mecca for urban explorers, even though there’s a real and constant danger that one bad step could add your spirit to the cadre of ghosts haunting what is known locally, appropriately enough, as the Ghost Tower.
Skyscrapers rose throughout Bangkok during Thailand’s economic boom in the 1990s, but this one didn’t quite make it. Its sister building, The State Tower, is an important landmark (in a good way) with no less than two five-star hotels and the world’s highest open-air restaurant under is shining golden dome.
But construction on the Sathorn Unique stopped in 1997 during a terrible financial crisis in East Asia which left Thailand’s currency in worse shape than the German Mark after World War I. Squatters moved in shortly afterward.
5. Plaza Tower
United States, 531 feet (162m) and 45 floors
In 1964, magazine ads boasted that the Plaza Tower, just begun construction, “surmounts the skyline.” It was the tallest building in Louisiana, and to this day remains the third tallest. Even though it’s completely empty of everything except a lot of asbestos and toxic mold.
It was planned with offices, penthouse apartments, restaurants, a bank, a health club, heliport and an observation deck, “Plaza Tower serves as a beckoning beacon, attracting others to challenge if they will, to surpass if they can, its shining example.”
But things don’t always go as planned.
The first owner went bankrupt. Construction was delayed, and the building wasn’t finished until 1969 — but at least it was finished, which puts it ahead of most buildings on this list. But it was poorly located, poorly designed, and poorly built. And considering its towering size, it wasn’t that big — only 7,000 square feet per floor.
Owners came and went until finally in 2002 it was closed and boarded up. In 2014 it was purchased again, but still it remains shuttered, its future uncertain.
What brought it down? A hurricane? Nope. Hurricane Katrina came and went, and the Plaza remained encased in razor wire.
It was a host of environmental problems for the people who used it that brought about its demise, with asbestos and toxic mold topping the list.
Even the mightiest tower can be brought down by a small bit of mold.
6. Book Tower
United States, 476 feet (145m) and 38 floors
The Book brothers inherited a bit of money back in the day. No, actually, they inherited a lot. They had this idea to transform Washington Avenue in downtown Detroit into an upscale district, so they started buying up real estate and looking for an architect.
They ended up owning about 60% of the land, and found a kindred spirit in the form of architect Louis Kamper, who had no experience with making skyscrapers but who really really liked things fancy.
Their first collaboration was the 13-story Book Building, and office building done in the elaborate Italian Renaissance style. It was a nice structure with lots of light and space for shops and offices. A series of progressively larger buildings followed, allof which did well because of the booming fortunes of Detroit’s auto industry.
You can probably see where this is going.
The crowning glory came in 1926 with the 36-storey Book Tower, which for two whole years was the tallest building in Detroit. And many said it was the ugliest, too.
Kemper’s intricate designs worked ok for smaller structures, but this tacky monstrosity was festooned with decorative elements from bottom to top, like a Christmas tree decorated by an ADHD six year-old, or a Donald Trump wedding cake.
He also neglected to account for fire routes inside, so a strange fire escape winds its way up the dirty outside. Dirty is not a subjective call relating to the many naked women Kemper liked to have sculpted to the side of his buildings, but an objective observation about how the porous limestone façade likes to suck in pollutants and get, well, dirty.
The Book brothers wanted to go bigger and bigger, and had plans for an 81 story office tower, but then 1929 hit and the Depression put an end to the madness.
Their legacy of many buildings, including the Book Building, continued to thrive as Detroit enjoyed the auto industry ride over the next few decades. Then the 1970’s brought a change in fortunes for the Motor City, and for the Book Building. A young woman took her own life by jumping off, as well as the life of the man she landed on. High winds blew a radio antenna off the roof.
A series of problems with a series of owners and a series of unpaid bills eventually ended in 2009, when the once-great Book Tower was emptied and shuttered. And there it still sits on the once-great Washington Avenue in once-great Detroit, waiting for someone to come along and make all those things great again someday.
Source: Historic Detroit
7. Burj el Murr Tower
Lebanon, 459 feet (140m) and 40 floors
Depending on how you look at it, it’s either a really good thing or a really bad thing that the Burj el Murr tower was built solid and strong from hard concrete, and it was built tall on a hill with a dominating view over city of Beirut. That’s because these many qualities make it the ideal place for snipers to hide.
It all depends on how you feel about snipers.
The story of the Burj el Murr began in 1974 when construction on the 40-story Trade Center began. The story took a quick turn the following year when the Lebanese Civil War began and the incomplete tower’s construction went on indefinite hold.
The tower sits at a strategic point amid a collection of other towers and lots and lots of hotels. It became a hot-spot for fighting in the civil war between 1075 and 1977 in what became known as the “Battle of the Hotels” as fighters from all sides took positions in the various luxury buildings in the area and started shooting as many holes in them as possible.
The Burj el Murr proved difficult to puncture in this way, which is why so many snipers liked to hide there and do their deadly distance thing.
The tower is still there. Hollow and scarred, but still standing despite many attempts to bring it down. But they built it well back in ’74, like a big middle finger sticking up from the long-since past glory days into a violent and uncertain future.
Source: Open Democracy
8. Torre Insignia
Mexico, 417 feet (127m) and 25 floors.
Like many others on this list, the Torre Insignia’s construction coincided with an economic uptick. Built to house a bank, and to withstand the apocalypse, the towering triangular pyramid is an important Mexico City landmark.
Shame it’s empty.
It was a proud and bustling part of life from 1962 until the Mexico City earthquake of 1985. Made of aluminum, glass, and a whole lot of reinforced concrete, the Torre Insignia survived the 8.0 magnitude quake, but was shaken enough that it had to be abandoned.
In fact, it has survived six major earthquakes so far and is considered one of the safest buildings in the city, if not the world.
Such a shame it’s empty.
But there is still hope for the building: American real estate company Cushman and Wakefield bought it in 2008, and began remodeling it in 2011.
And yet, still it sits empty.