If at first you don't succeed: Housing ideas that never took off

One of Bill Gates' investment firms has reportedly shelled out $US80 million ($106 million) for a massive swathe of land in Arizona, with plans to build a "smart city" filled with driverless cars, data centres and high-tech buildings.

You could hazard a guess the proposed city, which would house about 80,000 residential properties, has an above-average chance of coming to fruition, given it's backed by one of the world's most successful tech billionaires.

However, one thing's for sure - the real estate world is littered with countless projects that reeked of ambition but never took off or turned into property nightmares.

We take a look at a few of the more notable.

Pruitt-Igoe, St Louis, America


Photos: United States Geological Survey

Built in the mid-1950s in St Louis, Missouri, the Caption WO Pruitt Homes and William L Igoe Apartments were a joint housing project that went famously wrong.

The 33 11-storey apartment blocks were originally intended to house young middle-class white and black tenants, who would be segregated into different buildings.

Originally praised as a breakthrough in urban renewal, the project quickly went pear-shaped, plagued by a lack of maintenance and other social problems including a "white flight" to the suburbs after the end of segregation. At one point, faulty plumbing saw raw sewage flood the hallways.

By the end of the 1960s, only the most desperate tenants remained in the crime and vandalism-riddled buildings. "I never thought people could be that destructive," remarked its architect Minoru Yamasaki, who later designed the twin towers of the World Trade Centre.

The first Pruitt-Igoe tower was demolished in 1972 and the remainder were imploded during the next four years.

Thuan Kieu Plaza, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Thuan Kieu Plaza, a striking three-tower, 33-storey commercial and residential development in the heart of the city's Chinatown, was seen as a sign of great prosperity when it was built in the 1990s.

However, the Hong Kong-style buildings, considered cramped, didn't appeal to Vietnamese residents. Plus there were regular tales of ghostly sightings and tenants reporting nightmares involving fires and spirits.

A greater problem is many locals believe the three towers resemble three incense sticks standing on traditional Vietnamese altars - a spiritual place reserved for the deceased.

Despite its bad feng shui, there are plans to rejuvenate the site by opening a new department store. It's not clear what will happen to the abandoned apartments.

Olympic Village, Heidelberg West, Melbourne

Olympic Village in Heidelberg West.

Olympic Village in 1956.

Constructed in 1956, during a time of great excitement for Melbourne, the Olympic Village was purpose-built to house thousands of overseas athletes arriving for the Olympic Games.

In previous Olympics, athletes had traditionally been housed in dormitories, but this time they were allocated semi-detached houses and flats.

After the Games, the village was handed over for public housing, and by the 1960s the suburb was home to a cluster of low socio-economic groups including returned soldiers, single mothers and homeless people.

The 1956 Olympic Village at Heidelberg nearly 50 years on.

The 1956 Olympic Village at Heidelberg nearly 50 years on. Photo: Craig Abraham

Gangs, fights and burglaries were rampant in the area, with the suburb gaining nicknames such as "The Bronx" or "Heidel-burglary".

Still deemed an area of high-disadvantage, some residents continue to live in the original Olympic accommodation. Local health services report that children living in the often-mouldy homes regularly suffer respiratory issues.

The Victorian government has begun a 10-year plan to revitalise the area, with a goal to revamp at least 600 unsuitable or outdated public housing properties.

Lotus Riverside, Shanghai, China


Photo: Youtube/talltanic

In June 2009, a 13-storey apartment tower, part of Shanghai's Lotus Riverside development toppled over, narrowly missing an adjacent tower. Had it connected, it would have likely led to a domino effect in the 11-block development.

One migrant worker was killed in the accident, with an inquiry later finding that an underground garage being excavated at the time partly led to the collapse.

Almost 500 people, many of who had been planning to move into the tower, found themselves in a battle to claw back their life savings.

The Universe, Dubai, United Arab Emirates


Photo: coastalcare.org

Dubai is no stranger to outlandish plans that mysteriously fail to materialise. Last year, Arabian Business reported that only 70 per cent of planned UAE real estate would likely come to fruition that year.

Dubai developer Nakheel, which has floated such grandly titled property schemes such as The World, launched its mega project The Universe with a bang in 2008, estimating it would take 15 to 20 years to complete.

The plan was to build a cluster of man-made islands inspired by the solar system, with an island in the shape of the sun, the moon and the planets. The Universe would cover about 3000 hectares and include residential, commercial and tourism developments, according to local media.

However, the developer came back to earth quicker than expected, and plans for the site rapidly disappeared into the ether.

This story If at first you don't succeed: Housing ideas that never took off first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.