Trafalgar pyramid? A look at an alternative London

London has been the focus for some questionable urban design ideas over the years – from remaking Soho as a concrete office complex, to building a wheel-shaped airport that would have squatted over Kings Cross, to straightening the Thames.

Working with the rendering agency CG Orange, the developer Barratt Homes has superimposed 3D images of several proposals, some reported by Guardian Cities here, over Google Earth images of where they would have stood.

Westminster City Airport

An airport on the Thames estuary isn’t as original an idea as Boris Johnson might have you believe. A 1934 plan proposed the Thames itself host a new airport, directly next to the Houses of Parliament in between Westminster and Lambeth bridges. It was to be tall enough to accommodate passing ships and suitable for single-propeller aeroplanes.

For its rendering here, the CG Orange agency adapted the original design with a new ramped runway, in order to give planes more time to take off, and a riverside check-in lounge, in addition to the storage (of planes and fuel) that was planned for underneath the runway and elevators in the support pillars.

The Carlton Hotel

This luxury hotel, designed by the architect CJ Phipps, was open from 1899 to 1940 and originally run by the infamous hotelier César Ritz; the head chef was Auguste Escoffier, and it competed with the Savoy (which the pair previously ran) for prestige. In the second world war it was badly damaged by bombs, and was eventually entirely demolished by 1958. The High Commission of New Zealand now stands in its place.

The Trafalgar Square ziggurat

In the early 19th century, Sir Frederick William Trench, an MP and soldier, had an idea to commemorate the defeat of the French at the recent Battle of Trafalgar and the earlier Battle of the Nile.

His idea? A pyramid at the top end of Whitehall. Blueprints show that it would have been taller than St Paul’s Cathedral, with 22 steps – one for each of the years the English and French had fought in those conflicts. Instead, the land was cleared and a statue of Nelson installed. The dream of a London ziggurat was over.

The central London monorail

Nearly 50 years ago, with bus use falling and cars clogging up the streets, London briefly toyed with the idea of scrapping many of the buses entirely, and replacing them with (sing it) a monorail … monorail … monorail!

Proposed by Brian Waters and endorsed by the Conservative opposition in the GLC, the monorail would have had four large loops. Despite that early political support, the plans was quietly abandoned within a couple of years.

The Victorian skyscraper

After the Great Exhibition of 1851, there were a number of plans for what to do with the structure (originally located in Hyde Park, but subsequently moved to Sydenham, in what is now known as Crystal Palace Park).

One idea, rather obtusely, was to build London’s tallest skyscraper: Charles Burton drew up a plan for a 1,000 ft high building, which, given the height of the south London location, would now make it 100ft higher than the Shard. There were to be “vertical railways” (we might now call them elevators) to the summit, and a giant clock halfway up.

Sources: Google Maps, Earth and Street View data courtesy of Google

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