Lost Buildings

In Lost Buildings, Jonathan Glancey compiles structures from ancient times to present day, some once real and some only imagined, that fell to war, commerce, natural disaster, or “fickle” architectural fashion. Buildings generally don’t succumb to old age, Glancey writes. We’re much more likely to knock them down ourselves, like “petulant children” playing with “a pile of wooden bricks in a nursery.” Photographs and essays travel from ancient civilizations to the World Trade Center to buildings made only on blueprints. Below, a sampling of the collected photographs, accompanied by Glancey’s writings. (Click the photos to enlarge; click the photos again to return to the original post.)


Ridley Scott [b. 1937] paid tribute to Metropolis in his much admired film Blade Runner (1982), a film-noir detective thriller set in the future, 2019, in a profoundly dystopian yet strangely beautiful Los Angeles, heavily influenced by modern Tokyo and Hong Kong.

The sets were by the American artist Syd Mead [b. 1933] and realized by Lawrence G. Paull, the film’s production designer, and David Snyder, art director; they were simply stunning. Scott said that the brooding panorama of the city that opens the film with its terrifying 700-storey office blocks set against a backdrop of fiery chimneys belching smoke in a sky perpetually darkened by acid rain, was rooted as much in Los Angeles as it was in the fiery steelworks and other fierce industrial plants he knew as a child in Teesside, in the North East of England.

As for the scenes in brooding cafes down on the city’s streets, Scott says that he was much influenced by Edward Hopper’s painting “Nighthawks” (1942); “I was constantly waving a reproduction of this painting under the noses of the production team to illustrate the look and mood I was after.”



Hollywood stars themselves were for 20 years or so enamoured with another glamorous art deco setting; the Garden of Allah Hotel on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. Opened in 1927, this was the centre of the raunchy side of Hollywood life. Charlie Chaplin, Errol Flynn, Greta Garbo, Ginger Rogers, Marilyn Monroe and the Marx Brothers came to play here. This is where Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall began courting while working on the set of To Have and To Have Not (1944), and this is where the American literati – Dorothy Parker, F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway came to join the fun.

The hotel came about after Alla Nazimova [1879-1945] the Russian-born star of Hollywood’s silent screen began to worry about her bank balance. Her most recent films, such as Salome (1923) based on Oscar Wilde’s risqué stage play, had not been a commercial success and so she extended the Spanish hacienda-style Hollywood mansion she had leased in 1918 and converted it into what become the Garden of Allah Hotel.

Apparently the construction was fairly flimsy, the food lousy and the whole place run in an amateurish manner, but it was somewhere for the rich and famous to hide away in and make whoopee, not a perfect example of Californian architecture. After the Second World War the hotel fell into a slow decline and was demolished in summer 1959. It might well have become a cult place to stay today; before its closure the hotel hosted one last, riotous party, said to be attended by 1,000 guests including some, like Chaplin, who had attended the opening 30 years before. An auction of furniture, fixtures and fittings was held during this boisterous swansong and the story goes that there was an unseemly jostle when it came to bidding for a bed much favoured by Errol Flynn.



The most spectacular attacks on buildings in recent years have not been by conventional armies fighting conventional wars,  but by terrorist groups aiming to kill as many civilians as possible in attempts to draw attention to their causes. The most infamous was, of course, the attack by al Qa’ida on New York’s World Trade Center on September 11, 2001….

There are a number of curious back-stories to be told in the aftermath of the attack. From a strictly architectural viewpoint, it was sad to see the work of the Japanese-American architect Minoru Yamasaki [1912-86] meet such an end. On March 16, 1972, Yamasaki’s first major work, the Pruitt-Igoe urban housing project in St Louis, Missouri, was also blown to pieces. This was not an act of terrorism, but because the 33 concrete blocks containing 2,870 apartments had become one of the most notorious modern slums in the United States. Smothered in graffiti, dirty, violent and suffering from damp and any number of technical deficiencies, this “project” was sentenced to death by democratically elected city authorities. Charles Jencks, the eminent architectural critic and historian, declared March 16, 1972, as “the day Modern architecture died.”

Significantly, Mohammed Atta [1968-2001] the Al Qa’ida terrorist who flew American Airlines Flight No 11 into one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center had trained as an architect at Cairo University, and had written a thesis while studying at the Technical University of Hamburg on the issue of how modern high-rise buildings were destroying the fabric and spirit of traditional Arabic cities. Atta despised the housing blocks that Yamasaki had designed in St Louis, while the twin towers were, for him, a symbol of all that was wrong with western modernism….

Yamasaki saw things very differently. When asked about the towering design of the 110-storey, 1,350-foot towers of the World Trade Center, he said:

“I feel this way about it. World trade means world peace and consequently the World Trade Center buildings in New York…had a bigger purpose than just to provide room for tenants. The World Trade Center is a living symbol of man’s dedication to world peace…beyond the compelling need to make this a monument to world peace, the World Trade Center should, because of its importance, become a representation of man’s belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his beliefs in the cooperation of men, and through cooperation, his ability to find greatness.”