20 Fenchurch Street, aka "The Fryscraper" (photo by Luc Mercelis / Flickr)
Last September, Londoners experienced a pretty unusual architectural phenomenon: One of the city's newest luxury towers, the half-finished 525-foot-tall skyscraper at 20 Fenchurch St., began inexplicably shooting a "parabolic death ray" hot enough to melt cars. The massive building's glass façade with its unusually wide top was concentrating sunlight to the point that it created a reflected hotspot of up to 230ºF — much higher than the boiling point of water. In addition to the roasted Jaguar, the "Fryscraper" set a barber shop's carpet on fire and shattered a restaurant's slate floor tiles. It also, naturally, became a tourist attraction, with people gathering in the unseasonably warm afternoons to fry eggs and toast baguettes in the glare.
Surely the building's designer was mortified by the results of his creation, right? Well, no. When architect Rafael Viñoly was questioned about his flawed design, he heartily deflected, blaming consultants, global warming, cost-cutting developers, and the sun's elevation. This was an especially galling disavowal of responsibility because the science of solar reflectivity analysis has been gaining traction for several years. There are many tools, firms, and even apps available to architects and developers to help avoid just this problem. Especially damning for Viñoly is that the "death ray" issue was not actually unprecedented. And the last time a high-profile building had had problems of this nature, it was also one he'd designed.
Vdara Hotel in Vegas (photo by brx0 / Flickr)
The foundation of Atlas Obscura is contributed by intrepid users around the world, out exploring the places no one else is noticing, or delving into history that's been all but forgotten. Here we are highlighting five of our favorite recent additions to the Atlas. Have a place we've missed? Create an account and become a part of our community.
ROYSE CITY FUTURO HOUSE
Royse City, Texas
photograph by amboy
Finnish architect Matti Suuronen had a dream of affordable prefab housing that could roam from beach to mountain, and since he was designing this in the 1960s, his dream home looked like a UFO. Unfortunately with the oil crisis of the 1970s making plastic expensive, and maybe people not ready for extraterrestrial living, fewer than 100 Futuro Houses were built, and now less than 50 survive. One Futuro House in Royse City, Texas, added with great photographs by Atlas Obscura user amboy, has been left to retrofuture ruin as if it crash landed and its aliens moved on.
LEVON'S DIVINE UNDERGROUND
photograph by littleham
In 1985, Levon Arakelyan's wife asked for a potato cellar, and he spent until his death in 2008 constructing a labyrinth of caves instead. Levon's Divine Underground in Arinj, Aremenia, added with subterranean photographs by littleham, stretches 70 feet beneath the house above with stunning halls and interlaced rooms embedded with small shrines.
FAIRY POST OFFICE
photograph by Mallory Pickett
When the Fairy Post Office, added with whimsical photographs by Mallory Pickett, was placed in a hollow of a tree in a park in Orinda, California, in 2013, its creators expected the tiny letter depot to be an ephemeral installation. Instead, the miniature post office expanded, with visitors adding trinkets and wall maps, and exchanging letters with fairies and field mice.Read More
Plaque marking a London zeppelin raid from 1915 (photograph by Christoph Braun/Wikimedia)
Whether it was the terrifying drone of a German heavy bomber or the near-silent hum of a zeppelin, since the beginning of WWI when bombs fell on civilian targets far from the Front, the threat of death from the skies has been very real during times of war. But the art of war is not just in the power of destruction, it also in methods of confusion and subterfuge.
From January of 1915 until the end of the First World War, German dirigibles made around 51 bombing runs against Great Britain – which led to more than 500 deaths. Although these bombings are often focused on by historians, the Belgian cities of Leige and Antwerp were both bombed in 1914, as was Paris (although Paris received more than the standard incendiary bombs, they were also bombed with leaflets, demanding the French surrender). Originally the German Kaiser, Willhelm II, forbade bombing strikes against London, as the King and Queen of England were his close relatives (he was the eldest grandson of Queen Victoria), although on seeing the immense psychological damage these raids had on the British, the Kaiser complied with the advice of his generals, and London became a target.
"It is far better to face the bullets than to be killed at home by a bomb. Join the army at once and help to stop an air raid. God save the King" (1915 poster) (via Library of Congress)
At first there was little that could be done against the silent menace of dirigibles, as the ground-based anti-aircraft weapons of the time did not have the range required to hit them, and those weapons that could be mounted on interceptor-aircraft had little effect on the flying behemoths.
Alternate methods of defense were required.
Engineers in Britain and France were redirected from the efforts of the land-war, which in itself was a victory for the German High Command, as the damage caused by the dirigible raids was, in fact, negligible. Devices such as the acoustic mirror and incendiary bullets were invented, but it was perhaps the French who came up with the most elaborate solution: an artificial Paris, designed to be built on the city's northern outskirts.
The town of Maisons-Laffitte north of Paris, was the focal point of the French military's efforts to protect Paris from German bombing runs, although three more sites were planned, surrounding the capital. It sat on a stretch of the Seine that closely resembles the river as it passes through Paris, some 15 miles to the south. Built mostly of wood and canvas, a team of artists was hired to paint the city, and the electrical engineer Fernand Jacopozzi (famous for first lighting the Eiffel Tower), was brought in to make Faux Paris more appealing to the German bombers.Read More
A similar though much older Egyptian papyrus text (image via Jeff Dahl / Wikimedia)
Researchers in Australia have decoded an Ancient Egyptian ritual codex containing spells to cure demonic possession, treat black jaundice, and find success in business and love. The complete 20-page illustrated parchment booklet, thought date to the 7th or 8th century, contains 27 spells and "a lengthy series of invocations that culminate with drawings and words of power." The translation, by Macquarie University professors Malcolm Choat and Iain Gardner, is called "A Coptic Handbook of Ritual Power."Read More
photo by Dina Eric / Flickr
In September, the bizarre story of the Georgia Guidestones got a little stranger, with the secret addition and public removal of a new stone cube fitted into a notch at the top of one granite slab. The cube bore several inscriptions including the numbers 20 and 14, setting conspiracy theorists abuzz trying to decipher the meaning of it all. As author Mark Dice put it, "People feared it was a clue that the Illuminati were about to greenlight their population-reduction plan."
Often called the "American Stonehenge," the 20-foot-tall Guidestones were built in 1980 by the Elberton Granite Association (proprietors of the Elberton Granite Museum), financed by a mystery man who went by the pseudonym R.C. Christian. He required all the workers on the project to sign non-disclosure agreements and to never reveal his identity or that of the group he represented, which they seem determined to honor. Octogenarian Wyatt Martin, the last man alive to have met R.C. in person, told Discover Magazine last year, "They could put a gun to my head and kill me, I will never reveal his real name."
The monoliths lay out 10 "guiding thoughts" in eight languages, and the capstone reads: "Let these be Guidestones to an Age of Reason" in Sanskrit, Babylonian cuneiform, classical Greek, and Egyptian hieroglyphics. The tenets include calls for a world court and a new language for all humanity, as well as an extreme population reduction across the world to less than 500 million, a decrease that would be impossible without some kind of apocalyptic catastrophe. There are myriad theories attempting to decode the stones, most of which feature subtle or overt links to favorite conspiracist bogeymen like the Illuminati and the New World Order. The monument is often defaced by people on all sides — from Christians to conspiracists to satanists to just plain vandals.
photo by S A Rogers / Flickr
But conspiracy theories aside, there really are mysteries involving the Guidestones. The latest began back in 2009, when a 6 x 6 x 6 cube of granite was mysteriously removed from the top corner of one of the stones. Four years later, a man named William Jeremy Ellis was apprehended in the middle of the night while attempting to put the cube back onto the monument. He later explained that he had removed the stone for "personal esoteric and numerological reasons," and that he'd decided to return it because he "didn't want that weight anymore." We spoke by phone to Christopher Kubas, executive vice president of Elberton Granite, which is still in charge of maintaining the monument, and he confirmed that he is in possession of the cube but that the company has not yet decided what to do with it.Read More