10 Expensive Restorations

Due to extravegant materials and an extended timeline, St. Peter's Basilica was one of the most expensive buildings of its time.

There are lots of reasons to renovate a structure. Deterioration, changes in taste and the need for more space have all had an impact on the complexion of architectural refurbishment. Over the centuries, some of the most breathtaking buildings on Earth have been renovated many times. A few have maintained their original function throughout, while others have been repurposed for emerging religions and different political climates. Many have seen the predations of war and the ravages of neglect.

Some of these monuments to human ingenuity are embodiments of how our tastes and priorities have changed over time, as well as the choices afforded to us in materials. Building is an expensive enterprise, and rebuilding can be even more challenging, both from a design and an economical standpoint. What we build and what we preserve from the past says a lot about us.


In the next few pages, we'll explore 10 structures that have undergone expensive renovations, many more than once. Some are among the most beloved and beautiful structures ever made.

First up, the palace of Westminster, or as it's more commonly known, the Houses of Parliament.

10. Palace of Westminster

In 1834, the old Houses of Parliament in London burned almost to the ground, giving way to a renovation project that would become the new, modern, impressive and dramatic seat of government. A Tudor or Gothic style was agreed on, and a competition was held to select architects to design what became a Gothic Revival structure.

Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin created a 914-foot (289-meter) long edifice incorporating surviving sections of the old buildings, including Westminster Hall and portions of St. Stephen's Chapel, on the banks of the Thames. It was dominated by two towers, the northern Clock Tower and Victoria Tower to the south [source: Howells].


The process didn't run smoothly, though. Political wrangling, budgetary disputes, delays and social unrest hampered efforts to complete the project, and neither of the original designers lived to see it finished.

Let's travel across the channel and take a look at the stained glass of Chartres Cathedral.

9. Chartres Cathedral

Probably the quintessential Gothic cathedral, Chartres Cathedral was constructed between 1195 and 1220 in the French high Gothic style out of imposing stone and glass on the site of an older cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary. One surviving relic of the old church was an exquisite piece of stained glass, the "Veil of the Virgin," which was thought to have been saved as an act of divine intervention.

In one great creative undertaking, the new church, also in honor of Mary, was erected in a little over two decades, quite an expensive and impressive accomplishment in a time when many churches were under construction for a century or more. Chartres Cathedral is renowned for its harmonious style, which is probably the result of a limited number of hands guiding its speedy completion.


Its stained glass windows are some of the most beautiful still in existence, having withstood the vagaries of time, war and fashion.

From the refined to the colossal, let's move on to the Great Wall of China.

8. The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China could be up for the winner of longest restoration project ever.

Although the addition of expensive materials, sculpture and landscaping can add to the expense of a renovation, these aren't the only ways to measure cost. A startling example is the Great Wall of China, one of the most ambitious building projects ever undertaken. Begun around 217 B.C. as a military fortification, the great wall has actually undergone three renovations and extensions to the original structure, and at its longest, stretched more than 4,000 miles (6,500 kilometers).

When it was finally abandoned after the advance of the Manchus in 1664, the Great Wall had witnessed the toil of countless souls working to extend and reinforce it over the course of almost 2,000 years, some almost certainly dying at their labor. There's even speculation that some of these unlucky workers were entombed in the wall itself [source: Travel China Guide].


From fortification to passion, let's take a look at the Globe Theater.

7. The Globe Theater

The value of a structure has a lot to do with what it represents, and in the case of the Globe Theater, it represents a modern homage to what many believe to be the greatest writer who ever lived, William Shakespeare. The original Globe Theater burned down in 1613, and there were big problems in trying to recreate a historic Elizabethan playhouse, from determining what it probably looked like to rediscovering where it should be situated geographically.

With the help of many historians, architects and other experts, American actor Sam Wanamaker spearheaded the effort to rebuild the Globe on or near its original site. Without a wealthy patron or the help of the British government, the project was completely financed by private donations. It was a labor of love and a potent illustration of the enduring power that buildings have to stir passions, enliven discourse and honor the past [source: Howells].


On the next page, we'll explore one of Michelangelo's triumphs, the Piazza del Campidoglio.

6. The Piazza del Campidoglio

The Piazza is an inovative blend of two existing Palazzos.

The Piazza del Campidoglio sits on the Capitoline Hill in Rome. Thanks to the uniqueness of Michelangelo's vision in blending the existing Palazzo dei Senatori and the Palazzo dei Conservatori with a new structure, the Palazzo Nuovo, to create a balanced trapezoid, the Vatican-facing piazza became a jewel that unified the old and new into a cohesive whole that exceeded the sum of its parts.

Unfortunately, Michelangelo didn't survive to see the work completed, but the beauty of his vision survives, and his accomplishment has become a hallmark of judicious planning and enlightened use of space. At the time, Pope Paul III refused to have the existing structures torn down. This created a unique challenge for Michelangelo in designing a space that would be functional, balanced and elegant. That type of challenge, when successful, is a triumph of creativity, but it seldom comes cheap.


For our next offering, we won't wander far to take a look at St. Peter's Basilica.

5. Saint Peter's Basilica

At the heart of the Catholic Church and one of its greatest and biggest cathedrals, the Basilica of St. Peter was built on the burial site of Saint Peter the Apostle between 1506 and 1667. The new structure replaced an older church erected in the fourth century, and it became one of the most expensive and elaborate building projects of the time. Made of marble and stone, it was originally commissioned by Pope Julius II and undertaken by Donato Bramante. During construction, the work fell to Bramante, Raphael, Baldassare Peruzzi and Antonio da Sangallo in turn.

The plans changed a number of times in the process, too, a common factor extending the time line and upping the price of building projects old and new. The original vision for a Greek-cross layout was modified to a Latin-cross layout and back again, and again. Later in the lengthy construction process, Michelangelo, at the advanced age of 72, was appointed chief architect, but didn't live to see the project finished. The final, distinctive piazza design was completed around 1667.


Let's move on to Mont Saint-Michel.

4. Mont Saint-Michel

Due to the small size of the island, builders had nowhere to go but up.

One of the most famous sites in France, the abbey at Mont-Saint-Michel sits on a small, rocky island between Brittany and Normandy. The first chapel was probably built in the eighth century and surviving buildings in the Norman Romanesque style date from the 11th century. That's not the end of the story, though. In 1203, the Bretons burned portions of the abbey, and Gothic style buildings replaced those sections during the 1200s.

The island is quite small, with a circumference of about 3,000 feet (900 meters). Because it was impossible to build out, subsequent renovations built up instead. La Merveille, a group of monastic buildings covering three stories was added in the 13th century and is considered a masterpiece of Gothic design, and a tower and spire addition sporting St. Michael and the dragon was erected in the 19th century, over 1,000 years after the first buildings were begun.


Mont Saint-Michel was converted into a state prison under Napoleon's rule and later restored yet again.

From Mont Saint-Michel, let's hop across the pond and take a look at the U.S. Capitol Building.

3. The U.S. Capitol Building

We have Thomas Jefferson to thank for the neoclassical lines of the U. S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Because of his influence and vision for an elegant structure "embellished with Athenian taste," the sandstone and marble building began to take shape under his watchful eye. Begun on a plot of land President Washington set aside for a capitol city in 1791, the Capitol Building sports 658 windows, about 540 rooms and a distinctive dome. The foundation stone for the building was set by George Washington himself.

British saboteurs and arsonists almost put an end to Jefferson's dream. In the War of 1812, the uncompleted structure was almost completely destroyed in a fire. Despite fire, war, and squabbling architects, the Capitol Building was rebuilt and completed successfully in 1830. There's more, though. Growing pains made it necessary to create more space, and the Capitol Building underwent a large and expensive expansion between 1851 and 1863.


On the next page, we'll tilt our heads at the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

2. The Leaning Tower of Pisa

As a testament to the belief that if you don't get it right the first time you should keep trying, the Leaning Tower of Pisa has undergone many repairs and renovations designed to keep it standing despite a noticeable, possibly dangerous and apparently popular tilt. The latest effort cost upwards of 25 million dollars, and there's no end in sight. If you think this is madness, the 800-year old Romanesque tower is a popular tourist attraction, which provides some real impetus to keep it from falling over completely [source: IcivilEngineer].

Although there's a determined group of supporters who believe that the tower was designed to tilt on purpose, the culprit is probably a poorly constructed foundation that fails to adequately support the tower on its base of soft clay.


While we're looking up, let's learn a few things about the International Space Station.

1. The International Space Station

Expensive restorations went out of this world with all the work done to the International Space Station.

With estimates that top 100 billion dollars once all the repairs, expansions and updates are completed, the International Space Station is a pricey undertaking. Begun in 1998, it's a jointly operated orbiting laboratory and observation post that will also function as a base for other human forays into space.

Currently being assembled in low orbit, the completion date was originally set for 2006 but may now be delayed to 2010 and beyond. An estimated 80 shuttle trips will be necessary to complete the project. With the discovery of water on the moon and Mars, new interest and excitement in space colonization (at least as far as a base on the moon is concerned) may help free up enough money to get the project completed soon [source: Oberg].

Lots More Information

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