Vanity Projects? What’s that?
Let’s face it; we all want to leave a legacy on this planet. Whether we are a butcher, baker or a candlestick maker, we want to folks to recognise and appreciate our achievements after we die. Sometimes, people go a little too far and squander public money for vanity projects, often leaving monuments and buildings that tarnish their legacy rather than uplift it.
1. The Millennium Dome, London, United Kingdom
When Tony Blair’s advisor warned him to leave a legacy; this white elephant was dreamt up in an instant; he even appointed a ‘Minister for the Millennium’ cabinet position to oversee the project. Blair wanted to bring Britain into the 21st century by building a wide, expensive dome but it turned out to be a flop. Designed to house the “Millennium experience”, which was a series of strange, unpopular, disorganised exhibitions sponsored by large corporations; visitor numbers were small, costs were astronomical, and it screamed ‘useless vanity projects’ given Blair’s insistence that the dome be a success. The Millennium Dome was taken out of the hands of politicians and is now the O2 Arena.
2. Palace of the Parliament, Bucharest, Romania
When Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu was approaching another decade in office, he knew that it was time to leave his legacy. The 1977 Bucharest Earthquake proved to be the catalyst for the People’s House, an ambitious project to rebuild the city in the image of Pyongyang, North Korea. After years of personal planning, the groundbreaking ceremony started in 1984; at a time when cash-strapped Romania was paying off its national debt by selling off its food supply. During its construction, Ceaușescu was known to drive his architects crazy by building, then removing staircases if it didn’t look right from his perspective. Moreover, thousands of people died as forced labor and neighborhoods were demolished and replaced with inadequate houses without windows or doors.
3. Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang, North Korea
Known as the “tallest unfinished building in the world”, the Ryugyong Hotel was designed to compete against the Westin Stamford Hotel in Singapore built by a South Korean firm in the mid-1980s. This was more than usual vanity projects; it was designed to be yet another boast in how they could build bigger, better buildings than the South; ignoring the actual reasons to why a hotel should actually be built. A North Korean construction company began groundbreaking in 1987, using a dull, inspiring squashed-sandwich pyramid-based design. Construction halted in 1992 after the Soviet Union collapsed and all potential funding ended, leaving a disused crane perched on its tip for over two decades; becoming a national calamity and an international embarrassment. In recent years, cladding has emerged on the Ryugyong Hotel, yet its interior remains empty and useless over 30 years since the completion of the Westin Stamford Hotel.
4. Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire
If religion is the opium of the masses, Ivorian president Félix Houphouët-Boigny must have been high AF when he dreamt up a plan to create a catholic Mecca for Africa. As yet another vanity projects from the mid-80’s, ‘Papa Houphouët’ designated his birthplace as the nation’s capital, and set to work spending up to $600 million USD on a building at a time of economic turmoil and strife. It was consecrated by Pope John Paul II in 1990 during Papa’s 30th year in office; on the promise that a local hospital is built nearby. Not surprisingly the hospital was never built, and the papacy was essentially tricked.
5. African Renaissance Movement, Dakar, Senegal
There are not too many grandiose statues in Africa compared to say, parts of eastern Europe or North Korea, yet this massive sculpture of steel was built by the latter – North Korea. Although the design of the statue was dreamt up by Pierre Goudiaby, this was part of one of the vanity projects by President Abdoulaye Wade to herald a “new era of African Renaissance” to celebrate Senegal’s 50th year of independence from France in 2010. It’s $27 million USD cost was paid through selling off 40 hectares of fertile land, money that could have been used to alleviate Dakar’s poverty. It’s unveiling led to protests from religious clergy angry at the scantily-clad models depicted on the monument, and also from thousands of Dakar’s poorest who were frustrated at the huge waste of public money.
6. House of Soviets, Kaliningrad, Russia
Colloquially known as “The Monster”, the House of Soviets once stood in the spot of a beautiful Prussian castle in what was known as Konigsberg. Wanting to remove all symbols of fascism and German heritage in the newly acquired territory, the Soviets completely demolished the damaged castle after the Second World War and replaced it with a bureaucratic “buried robot” structure. After 15 years of very slow work, authorities lost interest in completing the building and funding was cut, leaving a horrid useless shell. The building received a lick of paint following a 2005 visit by Putin, but since remains unused to this day.
7. George W Bush Presidential Centre, University Park, Texas
Presidents should at least have a positive legacy before monuments and buildings are dedicated to them. It is a tradition in the United States that every president should have his own “presidential library” to keep artifacts and other documents relating to their tenureship. But what if that particular leader was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of lives through his invasions? If a leader is not benevolent or popular, even years after his tenureship, then why should he (or she) have permanent vanity projects?
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