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America’s Abandoned Megaprojects

That time we almost put a dome over Manhattan 

 

October 2023

Script

America is home to many iconic structures.

But for every unique building you see popping out of the skyline … there are dozens of even crazier projects that were never built.

In 1960, the architect Buckminster Fuller proposed erecting a two-mile wide dome over Manhattan.i

Fuller proposed building “Dome Over Manhattan” out of shatterproof, one-way glass.

The dome was designed to let Manhattanites live in a climate-controlledii environment … and Fuller claimed the money the dome would save on snow removal would pay for its construction.iii

Dome Over Manhattan wasn’t the only proposal that would have changed a major city’s skyline.

Before settling on the facade that has since been immortalized on the penny … the commission responsible for designing the Lincoln Memorial entertained some curious designs.iv

The architect John Russell Pope proposed memorializing Honest Abe with a pyramid … or a massive Greek temple raised above Washington, D.C., at the top of a seemingly endless staircase.v

Some unbuilt infrastructure is interesting primarily because of *how* it would have been built.

In the 1950s, the Energy Department proposed creating an artificial harbor in Cape Thompson, Alaska … through the use of five hydrogen bombs.vi

Physicist Edward Teller backed the plan as an example of a “peaceful” application of nuclear weapons.vii

And although officials assured residents that the area’s wind and ice would push radiation away … local protestors successfully petitioned to halt the project in 1962, which was probably for the best.

You *do not* want to encounter a radioactive polar bear.

 

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

  1. The architect Buckminster Fuller proposed erecting a two-mile wide, weather-proof dome over Manhattan in the 1960s.
  2. The original proposals for the Lincoln Memorial included pyramids and giant staircases. 
  3. In the 1950s, the U.S. government proposed building a port in Alaska using nuclear weapons. 

Source(s)

  1. "The High-Tech Dome That Could Save Us Energy and Make a Better City" (Janette Kim and Erik Carver)  Next City
  2. Ibid. 
  3. "This Was Buckminster Fuller’s Plan To Cover Manhattan With a Giant Dome" (Allison McNearney)  The Daily Beast
  4. "What Might Have Been: Original Concept Art for the Lincoln Memorial" (Amy H. Edwards)  National Archives 
  5. Ibid.
  6. Project Chariot  Princeton University
  7. "Actual 1950s Proposal: Nuke Alaska" (Jeni Hackett)  Atlas Obscura

Shownotes

SOUND: "Weaver of Dreams" (Rob Mcallister)  

FOOTAGE: Estate of R. Buckminster Fuller / John Russell Pope (National Archives: 6087967, 6087981) / United States Fish and Wildlife Service (Wikimedia Commons) / Derek Mead (Vice via Princeton University) // CITED SOURCES AND NEWS OUTLETS ARE NOT AFFILIATED WITH AND HAVE NOT ENDORSED OR SPONSORED ANY PORTION OF THIS PRODUCTION. 

Sources

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