London's futuristic designs which never came off the gound

Old plans for Tower Bridge Credit: RIBA Collections

London's skyline is an ever-evolving architectural jigsaw, representing building creations new and old. But of the many monuments which have gone through construction over the years, thousands of plans for the capital never got off the ground.

Among them are futuristic designs - and at the time groundbreaking techniques - which never came to fruition.

Now, RIBA Collections has launched a new images site to give a unique insight into the London which could have been.

Westminster Abbey

At the turn of the 20th century, Westminster Abbey was considered too cluttered with monuments. This 1904 design for a new Imperial Monumental Halls and Tower at Westminster was supposed to house them alongside Imperial trophies. The Gothic Revival tower would have been the tallest building in the UK with a similar floor area to the Abbey next door.


Design by artist Frederick Sang Credit: RIBA Collections

For 300 years, from the mid 17th Century up to the 1960s, a variety of ideas were suggested for developing the land between the Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar square. The aim was to create a suitable home for the large civil service that ran Britain and its Empire. This 1873 design by artist Frederick Sang fell by the wayside like all the others.

Somerset House

Drawing by Thomas Sandby Credit: RIBA Collections

The idea behind this idealised 1755 ‘Bridge of Magnificence’ was that it would span the Thames at Somerset House. Thomas Sandby (1721-1798) was an artist and professor of architecture at the Royal Academy. This drawing, inspired by Piranesi and Palladio, would not have been a serious proposition, but rather an exercise for use in his lectures and teaching.

St Paul's

Joseph Emberton drawing Credit: RIBA Collections

This 1946 design was one of many ideas for how to rebuild the City of London after the Blitz. Architect Joseph Emberton designed Simpson’s of Piccadilly and the exhibition halls at Olympia.

The Royal Courts of Justice

Alfred Waterhouse's competition entry Credit: RIBA Collections

This is Alfred Waterhouse’s 1867 competition entry for the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand in London. Although unsuccessful in this instance, he was later commissioned – without competition – to design the Natural History Museum that we see today.


Design by Sir Misha Black Credit: RIBA Collections

An alternative design for the Festival of Britain site on London’s Southbank. The Royal Festival Hall design won the competition and was built for the 1951 festival. Sir Misha Black, a professor at the Royal College of Art, is best known for designing the iconic red and black Westminster street signs.

Nelson's Column

Watercolour by John Goldicutt Credit: RIBA Collections

This 1841 design was for the official competition to design Nelson’s monument, which was won by the Nelson’s Column design we see today. This watercolour by John Goldicutt shows a hemispheric globe surrounded by water. The portico of the National Gallery is shown bedecked with a decorative canopy, drapery and carpets.

Palace of Westminster

Design by William Kent Credit: RIBA Collections

By the 1730s the old Palace of Westminster was thought to be ramshackle and rundown. This 1739 design by William Kent was one of a few ideas of how to replace them with a new building, though none were built. In the end, a fire in 1834 destroyed the old buildings entirely, resulting in the ‘new’ buildings that we see today by architect Charles Barry.

Tower Bridge

Design by Sir Horace Jones Credit: RIBA Collections

This 1878 drawing is an early design for Tower Bridge by Sir Horace Jones. His later design is the Tower Bridge that we see today, completed in 1894, to meet the needs of increased commercial activity in the East of London. As Architect and Surveyor for the City of London he had no competition for his designs.

Grosvenor House Hotel

Design by George Ramon Credit: RIBA Collections

This imaginative redesign of the Grosvenor House Hotel in 1933 by German artist and set designer George Ramon shows a landing strip on the roof of one of the blocks. Park Lane is shown transformed into a multi-level road system.


Drawing by Philip Tilden Credit: RIBA Collections

This design for a tower to sit on top of Selfridges was drawn for Gordon Selfridge by architect Philip Tilden in 1918, nine years after the original store opened. We don’t know why it was designed– whether out of fancy or ambition.

Hyde Park Corner

Design by Corbett Harrison MacMurray Hood Fouilhoux & Crane Credit: RIBA Collections

A 1928 proposal for an International Music Hall and Opera House on Hyde Park Corner by American architects. The site is now occupied by the Lanesborough Hotel.

National Gallery extension

Richard Rogers Partnership's proposal Credit: John Donat/RIBA Collections

Richard Rogers Partnership proposed this model in 1982 as their competition entry for a new extension to the National Gallery. The winning design (not by Rogers) was eventually abandoned after Prince Charles’ famous comment that it was a “monstrous carbuncle”. Rogers’ characteristic style was to be seen in full a few years later when his Lloyds Building opened in 1986.

Mansion House Square

Designed by Mies van der Rohe Credit: John Donat/RIBA Collections

This design by Mies van der Rohe for a tower block in Mansion House Square received planning permission twice – in 1968 and again in 1985. Delayed originally by issues with the lease and then changing ideas of city planning, the site is now occupied by Number 1 Poultry, designed by James Stirling and completed in 1997.

Elephant and Castle

Design by Erno Goldfinger Credit: RIBA Collections

Elephant and Castle suffered severe bomb damage during the war. This 1960 design for a new shopping centre is by Erno Goldfinger, now famous for the Balfron and Trellick Towers. It was never built, as it didn’t win the competition – the design that did is still with us today.