JF Ptak Science Books Post 951
Sometimes things are designed that are so bulbous and so inflated and so terribly hyper-packed that they are just destined never to be built beyond the imagination. Among the largest of these things meant for the air was designed by a particularly streamlined designer, Norman Bel Geddes, who basically owned the concept of aerodynamic function at all levels of design in the 1930’s.
But Bel Geddes’ apoetically-named aircraft, Airliner 4, is an entirely different issue. It may possibly be the largest, slowest, lowest, fattest and most lumbering plane ever designed. (And by this I mean that it stood a chance of some sort of actually being built and flown, as opposed to the monsters with wing-topped tennis courts and such.)
This 530'-long 1.2 million pound beast took an hour to climb to its max ceiling of 10,000 feet where it would cruise along at an astonishing 100 mph. It would wind its way lovingly across the country, slicing off its travel hours like frozen bologna, 30 hours from coast-to-coast, slowly, methodically, so as not to disturb its 600 passengers in their sleeping rooms. But I'm not sure how much sleep would get slept, what with 20 (!) 1900 hp engines screaming overhead.
The passengers who didn't sleep could do a lot besides sit and be serviced by the aircraft's crew of 155--they might actually need guides to get them through the oddness of the plane's 9 decks, 3 kitchens, 2 dining rooms, solarium, 100-couple dance floor, gym, barbershop and medical offices (with waiting room). Plus much, much more. (I like a plane with a doctor's office waiting room; perhaps the real genius would've been to come up with the smaller, more interior, extra waiting room to which one graduates before seeing The Doctor.)
Getting closer to the ground is the plan for the Chicago Civic Center (1909) by the usually accomplished Daniel H. Burnham. This beast looks more like a stubby nuclear- pulse intergalactic Mothership than anything that anyone would have wanted to build on the ground—at least in space it would be out of sight.
In a struggling prose reminiscent of Lewis Sullivan Burnham writes1: “The Civic Center will be dependent for its effectiveness in the character if the architecture displayed in the buildings themselves…” which I think is self-referential, stating that the architecture’s effectiveness is dependent upon the architecture. If this is the case, the enormity of the Civic Center doesn’t save it from itself.
Staying in Chicago we find another proposal, this for the ChicagoTribuneTower competition of 1922—many of the works submitted seem to my eye big and wide and ugly, but perhaps none more so than that offered by Ludwig Koloch. This may well have been a nice design for the top third or so of a building, but not for three thirds--and actually, this may be four-thirds. It reminds me of something rising from the sands at a beach in the future, the remnants of destroyed civilizations. Without the apes.
- Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett, Plan of Chicago, 1909.