Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but ugly is universal. Is that a saying? That should be a saying. It’s true when it comes to buildings, anyway. While there are certain architectural novelties that the culture may have soured on – Brutalism, for example – we can all imagine a time and circumstance in which big concrete cubes and slabs probably looked pretty cool. Truly ugly buildings, though, you just slap yourself on the forehead and say, why?! Put on your snickerin’ pants, and let’s look at some of the most ill-conceived and derided buildings in the world.
THE MUSEUM OF POP CULTURE (FORMERLY THE EXPERIENCE MUSIC PROJECT), SEATTLE
Whoa. This building was designed by well-known architect Frank Gehry, who, not surprisingly I guess, has described his buildings as “ugly.” Well, mission accomplished, Frank. When it was completed, critics compared it to a “blob,” “hemorrhoids,” and “something that crawled out of the sea and died.” Personally, I think it looks like an electronic rendering of an internal organ – a heart maybe? – though if I was at the doctor’s office and he showed me a scan of something inside my body that looked like this, I would just go straight to the coffin store, buy one, and lie down in it, because you’d have to believe that death would be imminent.
AOYAMA TECHNICAL COLLEGE, JAPAN
This metallic cockroach building was the first project of Japanese architect Makoto Sei Watanabe; incredibly, they let him keep designing buildings, and he’s built a dozen since. But none of them approach the truly staggering hideousness of this one, the headquarters of a local technical college. (“Get it? It’s a technical college, so I made it look like a huge robot! Get it?”) Yeah, we get it.
BOLWONINGEN HOUSES, THE NETHERLANDS
These spherical houses were built by a Dutch artist in 1984; his concept was that the ball-shaped houses (“Bolwoningen” means “ball houses” in Dutch) would bring their occupants closer to nature. I think these houses have taken the top spot on my list of “ideas that seemed really cool when you were high, but which you should never have followed up on.” Even though they’re pretty tiny – only 18 feet across at their widest point – people still live in them. I was going to make a wisecrack about that, but then I remembered I live in a place with fluorescent lighting in the bathroom and avocado walls, so I’ll just hold my tongue.
RYUGYONG HOTEL, NORTH KOREA
This 105-story pyramid-shaped hotel – it’s the 22nd tallest skyscraper in the world – is so ugly that the North Korean government routinely photoshops it out of photos of Pyongyang. And they’re the ones who built it in the first place! It cost $595 million to build – two percent of North Korea’s GDP – and took thirty years to finish, and it’s never hosted a single hotel guest. The building has been dogged by rumors that it contains unsafe design flaws, and smuggled videos show it’s just an empty shell, with none of the bars, casinos, and restaurants that it was intended to include. They did manage to successfully turn on the lights in 2012, though. High five, North Korea! Great job.
THE ZIZKOV TOWER, PRAGUE
Communists built this retrofuturistic eyesore in Prague in 1985, and it’s been irritating Czechs ever since – so much so that many locals describe it as a middle finger flipping off the city. Consisting of three concrete-filled steel pillars topped by several pods of transmitting equipment, Zizkov tower was used by the Communist government to broadcast the usual communist programming, like documentaries about turnips and long orchestral anthems celebrating the emancipation of the workers. Once that technology became obsolete, they converted two of the cube-shaped pods into a bar and a restaurant. I wonder if young Czech people go there to eat ironically, like Guy Fieri’s in Times Square.
The tower is not just ugly, it’s also cursed. It was built on top of an old cemetery – authorities claimed they moved it before construction, but eyewitnesses described seeing gravestones and human bones scattered everywhere when they broke ground. If I was a ghost, and they disturbed my grave to build, like a children’s hospital, I’d probably let it slide. But for this monstrosity? Someone would be getting haunted. Oh, and I forgot to mention that they let an artist put a bunch of metal babies on the towers in the early 2000s, so it looks like they’re crawling up the spires. People, I think we’ve found the ugliest building on earth.