Things aren't always what they seem. Take this article for instance: despite what it may suggest, all of these buildings are real. They have a real foundation and real bricks and mortar binding them together. In form, they are as real as it gets. In function, however, they are outright fakes.
As a case in point, consider this red brick building in south Chicago. Who lives here - a retired general? Crazy cat lady? Distinguished scholar? Actually, no one lives here. No one ever has. The postman has never visited and a brace of persuasive Mormons have never crossed its threshold. That's because you're looking at an electricity substation, home to nothing more than a fat transformer and a lethal supply of volts.
South Chicago substation © yooperann
It turns out that substations masquerading as fake buildings is quite common. Residents are apt to take exception to a hulking transformer springing up next door; disguise it as a historic house however and they'll scarcely bat an eyelid - often because they've no idea it's even there.
Check this unassuming house in Brooklyn.
Some locals have walked past 58 Joralemon Street for years without realising it's a fake. There are clues that things may not be as they seem - the blacked out windows are a giveaway - but unless you were to climb the steps and peer through the keyhole, you'd have no idea that the house serves as an emergency exit for the subway system. When the subway was constructed in 1908, the building was purchased by Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York, stripped out and converted into a ventilation system. The warm subterranean air that poured from the windows for decades earned the townhouse its nickname - the Shaft House.
Who lives in the Shaft House? Not Shaft, disappointingly © Matt Green
New York isn't the only city to have pulled this stunt. One of the world's most famous fake buildings can be found in London. From the outside, 23 Leinster Gardens looks like this:
Just a mid-terraced London house, nothing to see here... © Duncan Harris
While on the inside it looks like this:
...wait, what? © Duncan Harris
In the 1860s, the construction of London Underground called for the house to be demolished. To preserve the street's character, the facade was retained, complete with dummy windows and a dummy door. The building soon entered popular culture, becoming the setting for a Sherlock Holmes story and a real life charity ball in which a con artist sold tickets and left bemused punters to knock vainly at the door that wouldn't open. Trolled hard. If you're thinking of ordering pizza to 23 Leinster Gardens by the way, you're not the first - it's been a favourite trick of pranksters over the years, one that Domino's have probably caught on to by now.
Back stateside, there are numerous examples of similarly disguised buildings. Com Ed, who constructed the substation featured earlier, built an array of incognito substations in the early 20th century. The Chicago substation below was designed by renowned architect Hermann V. Von Holst in 1925 to power the adjacent metropolitan railway.
Transformers: buildings in disguise © Debbie
And here's Toronto's Glengrove substation, built in 1930, which soon acquired the nickname The Castle. As one web commenter noted, it looks like the setting for a murder mystery. Every house has its secrets, but the greatest deception of all can be found in those buildings whose very purpose is the antithesis of what they purport to be.
The Castle: beautiful building, crippling electrical bills © Ryan
If you're wondering whether there's a downside to situating a substation in a residential neighbourhood, incidentally, that's a yes. It turns out that massive amounts of current can generate massive amounts of heat - heat which, in rare instances, can lead to massive amounts of fire. Click here to see another Toronto substation going into full meltdown. That ain't no chip-pan fire.
While some fake buildings withstand scrutiny, even on close inspection, others reveal their true form the closer you get. This Parisian ventilation tower uses trompe-l'oeil to trick viewers into thinking that its artfully rendered windows are three-dimensional.
Rue Quincampoix: flatter than the average flat © Wikimedia Commons
The greatest deception of all time wasn't so much a fake building as a fake barrio.
The American dream meets the Japanese nightmare © Boeing
Who would go to the bother of constructing an entire suburb out of plywood and chicken wire?
Boeing, that's who. During WWII, the aircraft manufacturer painstakingly concealed its manufacturing plant beneath an ersatz neighbourhood to deter Japanese bombers. Hollywood set designer John Stewart Detlie was hired to hide all traces of Plant 2. The $1 million project - a fortune by 1942 standards - saw the pseudo-suburb equipped with fake trees, fake houses and even fake street signs bearing names such as Burlap Boulevard and Synthetic Street.
Fake plastic trees © Boeing
The houses didn't even reach full height, but from the air, who was gonna know? The deception even extended to releasing publicity shots after the war showing 'residents' going about their daily lives. Shortly afterward, Boeing dismantled the neighbourhood that never was; today no trace of it exists.
The next time you're out walking, pocket your phone and pay attention to the buildings you're passing. Look closely and you might just spot a trick.
See More of the World's Coolest Futuristic Buildings Renzo Piano designed this arts and culture center which debuted in 2012 along a disused harbor southwest of Oslo’s city center. Bridges link three buildings—a museum, office space, and culture center—across canals formed from reclaimed land, and a sculpture park gently slopes toward the sea. The entire project is developed along a new promenade that starts at Aker Brygge and ends on the sea at a floating dock, providing unbroken visual contact with the water. It looks, from above, like a docked spaceship, with a curved roof that dips down to meet the parklands. Photo: Nic Lehoux
See More of the World's Coolest Futuristic Buildings Unlike most of the cool buildings on our list, this one hides largely out of sight. Entrepreneur and art collector David Walsh commissioned Melbourne architect Nonda Katsalidis to create a three-level structure in the cliffs around the Berriedale peninsula near Hobart. Part of the rationale for building so much of the museum underground was to preserve the two historically significant Roy Grounds Modernist houses on the property. But Walsh has also commented that he wanted a museum that "could sneak up on visitors rather than broadcast its presence.” The subterranean areas have no windows, and visitors descend a staircase, then work their way back toward the surface. Ingenious and unsettling, the physical setup is a logical precursor to viewing the avant-garde art, much of which concerns itself with themes of death and sex. Photo: Leigh Carmichael | MONA
See More of the World's Coolest Futuristic Buildings Milan's Garibaldi-Repubblica district got an infusion of 21st-century cool when this ecofriendly curvilinear office tower was completed in 2011. Designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, the 525-foot-high building connects light-filled office space with outdoor areas. The largest of the public spaces, Piazza Città di Lombardia, is covered by a roof composed of transparent “pillows” made from ETFE film (a fluorine based plastic), while other high tech/environmentally sensitive features include green roofs, active climate walls—two layers of separated glass containing rotating vertical blades to provide shade while maximizing transparency—and a geothermal heating system. Photo: Fernando Guerra I FG + SG
See More of the World's Coolest Futuristic Buildings Opened in December 2012, this 180,000-square-foot facility, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne, is itself a feat of scientific ingenuity. His firm Morphosis Architects set a goal of creating an attractive urban environment that also adheres to green principles. Hence features like a 54-foot, continuous-flow escalator contained in a glass-enclosed, tubelike structure that extends outside the building—along with landscaping (courtesy of Talley Associates) that includes a roofscape planted with drought-tolerant species, an interactive water feature, and a “Leap Frog Forest” of glowing amphibians. Photo: Mark Knight Photography
See More of the World's Coolest Futuristic Buildings Given China’s reputation for bold and speedy construction, it’s no surprise that 2012 marked the arrival of this cool new building in the capital city of Beijing. Designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid—the first woman to be awarded the Pritzker Prize—this 18-story office, retail, and entertainment complex consists of four domed structures connected by bridges and platforms, crafted from aluminum, stone, glass and stainless steel. Inspired by nature, the flowing lines and organic forms create a lusciously harmonious effect. Photo: Hufton + Crow
See More of the World's Coolest Futuristic Buildings This dynamic, low-rise glass building—touted as one of the world’s greenest at its 2012 unveiling—hosts the largest exhibition on urban sustainability. Set in the Royal Victoria Docks, the heart of London's new Green Enterprise District, the building is inspired by crystalline forms, a reference both to “a multi-faceted urban world” and the Crystal Palace built for London's Great Exhibition in 1851, which showcased the latest technology from the Industrial Revolution. The Crystal’s present-day innovations include rainwater harvesting, black water treatment, solar heating, and charging stations for electric cars. Photo:Courtesy of Siemens AG, Munich/Berlin
See More of the World's Coolest Futuristic Buildings The world’s tallest building opened in early 2010 and remains one of the most talked-about structures. Why? Not only is the Burj Khalifa the world’s tallest building (2,716.5 feet), it’s also the tallest free-standing structure, with the highest number of stories, the highest occupied floor, the highest outdoor observation deck, and an elevator with the longest travel distance in the world. Then there’s the show-stopping architecture: a tower comprising three elements arranged around a central core, inspired by the spider lily and courtesy of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill with consulting designer Adrian Smith. A Y-shaped floor plan shows off views of the Persian Gulf, and when seen from above, the building echoes the onion dome motif prevalent in Islamic architecture. Photo: David Kukin
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