There are plenty of steps between the spark of inspiration and any finished piece of art. This is true across pretty much any artistic discipline but especially when creating large structures.

Some of what we consider the world’s most iconic landmarks today started out looking very different in the initial design stages. Here’s a sampling of famous landmarks that look nothing like their original designs.

Chrysler Building

Photo of New York City with the Chrysler Building in the foreground
Credit: Jan Wallbott/

The Chrysler Building is like a glittering star in New York City. It would be hard to imagine the iconic skyline without its signature sparkling spire. However, when the building was in the works, initial designs looked very different from the skyscraper we know today.

At the time of its creation in the 1930s, there was a race to create the tallest building in the world, and William P. Chrysler wanted to win it. While initial designs for the building featured a squat, rounded tower, architect William Van Alen’s design kept evolving with an ever-upward-reaching spire.

The spire was unveiled in a dramatic way by being lifted from within the building. At the time of this reveal, the Chrysler building was, in fact, the tallest building in the world — for about a year, anyway, until the Empire State building was completed.

Easter Island Statues

Photo of the iconic Easter Island statue heads on a grassy field
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You’ve probably heard of the famous Easter Island statues. These monolithic head figures called mo’ai were carved by the Rapa Nui people some time between the years 1250 and 1500.

But wait – did you know that they’re not just heads?

The original design of these structures features the entire body of each figure. That’s right. Deep underground, these huge heads have torsos and limbs. Time and natural events gradually buried the bodies until only the heads remain visible.

So while these statues may resemble disembodied heads, it’s not at all how they looked when they were built.

Mount Rushmore

Photo of Mount Rushmore
Credit: Nicholas Martinson/

Visitors from around the world venture into a remote corner of South Dakota to see the incredible landmark that is Mount Rushmore.

As iconic as it is, this large-scale carving turned out way different than its original design.

Gutzon Borglum, a Danish-born sculptor, had a very different vision for his work. One earlier design featured presidents as individual statues; another included the upper bodies, including clothing and limbs.

However, the rock formations of the mountain itself forced certain decisions to be made about the design, and it was edited to the design that we recognize today. All said and done, it took a whopping 14 years to complete this incredible feat of carved art.

Space Needle

Photo of Seattle's skyline
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Did you know that the star of Seattle’s skyline started out as a childlike line drawing on a napkin?

Seattleite Edward E. Carlson, one of the organizers of the 1962 World’s Fair, had the idea for the Space Needle when he saw a broadcast tower in Stuttgart, Germany, that had a restaurant. He doodled an idea on a napkin for a like-minded structure in Seattle, thinking it could be a centerpiece for the fair. The rudimentary design features a rough, drawn circle on top of a column.

The design went through many more phases before building began, including a design that looked like a UFO, one that looked like a giant balloon, and even one with a tram taking visitors to the top.

In the end, architect John Graham, Jr. created a flying saucer-shaped design that we know today. Not only was the Space Needle a huge hit at the World’s Fair, but it has gone on to become one of the city’s most famous structures.

Sydney Opera House

Photo of the Sydney Opera House
Credit: amophoto_au/

Today, the Sydney Opera House is world famous. But before it was built, there were a variety of different ideas brought to the table for its design.

In 1956, New South Wales hosted a competition to design a new opera house at Sydney’s Bennelong point. More than 200 entries came in, including one for an accordion-like round structure, a modern building with a promenade, and even a glitzy design that looks better suited to a Las Vegas casino.

It was architect Jørn Utzon’s unique concrete shells design that won, though it took more than a decade to build the structure.

It’s All In The Process!

Photo of a pair of hands drawing an architecture blueprint
Credit: Hitdelight/

In an alternative universe, some of the world’s most beloved landmarks could look very different. By viewing the evolution of these incredible structures, it’s proof that large-scale projects always require compromise and adaptability. It’s fascinating to see how these now-iconic landmarks evolved before they became a reality and to consider what might have been.