Buildings are abandoned for many reasons. Some lose funding and are never completed, and others go bankrupt or fall into disrepair. Around the world, massive constructions become ghostly shells that never recover.
You don’t have to leave the U.S. to see some of these. The Michigan Central Station in Detroit was the tallest train station in the world when it opened in 1913. For decades, the station was the busy heart of the city, and by WWII it was moving 4000 passengers a day. Over the next decades, however, traffic declined, service became less frequent, and many of the rooms within the stations were closed (via Wealth Management). Although restoration efforts were made here and there, the station eventually closed for good. After a fight from preservation activists to stop its demolition in 2009, the station was sold to Ford Motor Co. and might soon reopen as an office and development depot (via Curbed Detroit).
But when it comes to giant abandoned buildings, Asia seems to have the best, the biggest, and the most unusual. One good example is Thailand’s Sathorn Unique Tower. This unfinished residential skyscraper in the heart of Bangkok was meant to offer 600 apartments over 47 floors but construction stopped when the state market crashed in 1997, according to Wealth Management. The massive structure is said to be haunted and has become one of the most famous urban exploration destinations in Asia.
Sometimes unoccupied buildings do come back to life
Up until recently, the South China Mall was the largest unoccupied building in the world. With a surface of 7.1 million square feet and space for over 2300 stores, Travel Wanderlust explains that it was also the largest mall in the world when construction was finished in 2005 (today, the very busy Iran Mall in Tehran is the largest mall in the world with a jaw-dropping size of 15 million square feet).
In addition to the retail space, the mall also featured an indoor canal with gondolas, an 1800-foot-long roller coaster, and massive reproductions of the Egyptian sphinx and the Arc de Triomphe (per Sometimes Interesting).
While initial estimates were hoping for 100,000 visitors a day, China’s “ghost mall” was still 99% vacant in 2008. Built in Dongguan, a factory town, the upscale mall was probably too upscale for the local working population. Over the years, the mall fell into disrepair and several floors were closed off because of safety concerns, according to Sometimes Interesting. But by 2015, CNN reported that an IMAX movie theater, a small theme park, and a new focus on middle-class shoppers were bringing new hope to the South China Mall. Many new shops, restaurants, and cafes opened their door over the next couple of years, and greenery and lighting were added to make it more attractive.
The now-renamed “New South China Mall, Living City” went through another round of renovation work in 2019 but things stalled again once the COVID pandemic started in 2020 (per Amusement Logic).
And in other cases just fade into obscurity
North Korea’s Ryugyong Hotel, best known as the “Hotel of Doom,” is the tallest unoccupied building in the world and North Korea’s tallest structure. When construction started in 1987, the hotel was supposed to be finished and ready to receive guests in two years to coincide with the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students. But things didn’t quite turn out quite like that.
By 1992, the 1,080-foot tall concrete shell of the building was finally built, but then work stalled again until 2008. It wasn’t until 2011 that the exterior work was actually finished before construction plans (now for the interior) stopped again (via Emporis).
By then, the 105-floor, 3,900,000 sq ft hotel was already a sight to behold. Today, the pyramid-shaped skyscraper can be seen from miles away, catching the reflection of the glass panels and 100,000 LED screens that have been added to the exterior over the years, according to Insider. The massive screens, which were added in 2018, are now used to show propaganda films, some historical programs, and the North Korean flag, CNN reports.
Very little work has been done on the inside of the building despite several companies taking over the project over the years. Right now, the building is just being used as a background for events — the only time the lights and screens are fully turned on.
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