Haunting Photos of Architectural Gems Damaged in Natural Disasters


As Frank Lloyd Wright, the greatest American architect of all time, once said: “I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.” Understanding and respecting what can be a very brutal and relentless force is one of the great responsibilities tasked to the creators of our buildings and cities. In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, we’re now facing the overwhelming cleanup of our soggy subways, submerged streets, and damaged tunnels. If you do one thing today, make it a quick trip to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief homepage and donate what you can to help those hardest hit get back on their feet.

A testament to the never ending battle between man and nature, we’ve rounded up haunting before and after shots of beautiful buildings defeated by Dame Nature. From the sad collapse of Haiti’s presidential palace to the devastating San Francisco earthquake in 1906 that left a city littered with architectural skeletons, click through to check out a brief history of natural disasters and the buildings they felled. What can we do to strengthen our manmade world? Or, is nature’s supreme power ultimately invincible?

National Palace – Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Images via JC’s Travel Adventures; architecture.about

Seriously damaged two years ago by the catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti, the National Palace is now slated for demolition. The J/P Haitian Relief Organization — Sean Penn’s charity — has started dismantling it. As The New York Times reports, “piece by shattered piece, the 92-year-old, E-shaped, gleaming white French Renaissance palace that contrasted with Haiti’s misery will be ripped apart over the coming months and carted off.”

Marché en Fer (The Iron Market) – Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Images via dr1; e-architect

In sharp contrast to the sadly symbolic presidential palace, Port-au-Prince’s beloved bazaar was restored in record time. Thanks to Irish entrepreneur Denis O’Brien’s $12 million dollar personal investment and the intelligent design of London-based John McAslan + Partners, the cultural and economic heart of the city was brought back to life in less than a year. Structurally reinforced and retrofitted with new solar panels, the market is again packed with nearly a thousand merchants selling art, pigeons, turtles, dried starfish, herbs, potions, perfumes, and produce.

City Hall – San Francisco, California

Image credit: Britton and Rey; Phyllis Stegl and Ted Smith via usgwarchives

San Francisco’s original city hall was completely destroyed by the 7.9 magnitude earthquake that hit California at the turn of the last century. The earthquake and resulting fire are remembered as one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States alongside the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 80% of the city was lost. The impressive structure that replaced it is about 20 feet higher than the US Capitol and boasts the fifth largest dome in the world. After minor damage during the 1989 earthquake, the San Francisco Bureau of Architecture has rendered the beautiful Neo-Classical building earthquake resistant through a base isolation system that essentially acts as a giant vibration dampener.

Columbus Tower flatiron building – San Francisco, California

Images via Postcard Gallery

One of San Francisco’s most famous buildings, the Columbus Tower flatiron was under construction when the 1906 earthquake hit. Although the construction site was severely damaged, the building itself was not destroyed — unlike much of the rest of the city. The little flatiron that could went on to lead a very storied life. Among other things, it was home to Ceasar’s, the restaurant (dubiously) credited with inventing the Caesar salad, the Kingston Trio and Francis Ford Coppola.

Fairmont Hotel – San Francisco, California

Image credit: SF Images; The Bancroft Library

The crown jewel of San Francisco’s ritzy Nob Hill neighborhood was designed by the famous female architect Julia Morgan. The hotel was under construction and nearing completion when the 1906 earthquake hit. Unlike all of its neighbors, the building remained structurally intact, but the interior was gutted by the fires that followed. It was restored to its intended glory and still stands today.

Christchurch Basilica – Christchurch, New Zealand

Images via Greg O’Beirne; The Atlantic

Favored by the legendary George Bernard Shaw who fell in love with the building during a visit to Christchurch, the cathedral was severely damaged during the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. The two bell towers at the front collapsed and the great dome was destabilized. It has since been removed and the rear of the Cathedral was demolished. They’re still deciding if they should restore or completely demolish architect Francis Petre’s masterpiece.

Sendai Airport – Sendai, Japan

Images via BuzzFeed; hitekhedhelp; NBC PhotoBlog

The tsunami wave descending on the Sendai Airport in Northeastern Japan was one of the most haunting scenes broadcast during the 2011 9.3-magnitude earthquake — the most powerful earthquake ever to have hit Japan and one of the five most powerful earthquakes in the world since modern record-keeping began.

Superdome – New Orleans, Louisiana

Images via bloguin; 4christe; At Length

The Saints’ Superdome has seen better days, but it did survive the storm enough to service the most noble duty of providing shelter for thousands of Katrina survivors.

Jane’s Carousel – Brooklyn, New York

Images via archdaily; andjelicaaa

One of the icon’s of Brooklyn’s waterfront revitalization, Jean Nouvel’s once sparkling — now submerged — jewel box of a historic carousel rehabilitation has become one of the most symbolic images of Superstorm Sandy’s descent on New York City.