Ten amazing, giant buildings you've never heard of

Some massive building projects are globally recognised icons – such as St Peter's in the Vatican, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur or the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. But other behemoths tend to slip under the radar, such as …

The Merchandise Mart, Chicago

Chicago is best known for its skyscrapers, but the city's truly special monster building is relatively low-lying and stands at the confluence of the Chicago River's two branches. The Merchandise Mart is an art deco colossus, just 104m high but covering 372,000 square metres of floor space. It was the largest building in the world when it opened in 1930, and until 2008 it had its own postcode. The idea behind it was to consolidate the city's wholesale businesses under one roof. Nowadays it plays host to several companies and organisations, plenty of shops and a design centre. See merchandisemart.com.

See: The three-minute guide to Chicago

The New Century Global Centre, China

The Merchandise Mart, however, has long been overtaken. The current world record-holder in terms of floor space is the New Century Global Centre in Chengdu, a not exactly brimming-with-character collection of offices, IMAX cinemas, shops, conference rooms and leisure facilities. A water park acts as the centrepiece, and a new 1000 room hotel is due to open soon. All this occupies a whopping 1.7 million square metres of floor space.

See: The three-minute guide to Chengdu

The Aalsmeer Flower Auction building, Netherlands

Floor space is not the only measurement – footprint is another. And on those terms, the Aalsmeer Flower Auction building in the Netherlands comes out on top, covering a whopping 518,000 square metres. Near Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, this is where flowers from around the world are brought in and auctioned off, with the noisy bedlam reaching its apogee around Valentine's Day. The action kicks off at 7am, and it's best to get there early. See royalfloraholland.com.

See: The Netherlands in spring: The ultimate flower-lover's paradise

The Jean-Luc Lagardère Plant assembly hall, France

And then there's the third measurement – overall volume. In this case, the Boeing Assembly Plant in Everett, Washington – a popular side trip from Seattle – wins. But coming not too far behind is the European competitor where the biggest passenger planes are made. Airbus makes its A380s at the Jean-Luc Lagardère Plant assembly hall, which covers 5.6 million cubic metres. Manatour offers gawping tours of the Airbus HQ. See manatour.fr/en.

NASA Vehicle Assembly Building, Florida

Other vehicles require buildings significantly larger than your average mechanic's shed, too, and space shuttles certainly fit into that category. The Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral, Florida, is well known for its space launches, but the tours there also take in the gigantic Vehicle Assembly Building. It's 160m tall – enough to build a shuttle or Saturn V rocket standing up – and 3,664,883 cubic metres in volume. It's so big, it has its own weather systems – rain clouds can form below the ceiling on particularly humid days. See kennedyspacecenter.com.


See: The world's 10 nerdiest destinations

Meyer Werft Dockhalle II, Germany

As cruise ships get bigger, they need places like the Meyer Werft Dockhalle II in Papenburg, the fifth largest building in the world by volume. Container ships and roll-on roll-off ferries have been constructed on site for years, but recent extensions to the dockyard mean up to three huge cruise ships a year can be built there. Once finished, they are transported 36km down the River Ems before hitting the open sea – quite a spectacle for anyone who shows up to watch. Otherwise, it's easy enough to visit the shipyard. See meyerwerft.de/en.

See: Australia's first purpose-built cruise giant sent down the river

The Aerium, Germany

The Aerium at the Brand-Briesen airfield, 50km south of Berlin, was originally designed to house an airship. It became the largest free-standing hall in the world, but the company wanting to bring back airships unsurprisingly went bust. So what to do with such a white elephant? Why, you turn it into a theme park, of course. The Tropical Islands resort now has multiple pools and waterslide, plus an indoor rainforest. See tropical-islands.de/en.

Ulm Minster, Germany

The tall building craze only really kicked off in the 20th century, and before then, the tallest building in the world was the giant Gothic Minster in Ulm. Topped by a 161.5m steeple, it's not even a cathedral as no bishop sits there. It also could have taken the record a lot earlier if the builders got a shift on – it was completed in 1890, but construction started five centuries earlier in 1377. There are impressive views of the Alps from the top on a clear day. See tourismus.ulm.de.

See also: Inside the world's tallest building

The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Cote d'Ivoire

Ulm Minster might be the tallest, but the world's largest church is in the Ivorian capital of Yamoussoukro. A huge vanity project inspired by St Peter's in the Vatican, it surpasses its inspiration in size by including a rectory and villa in the area.

Former president Félix Houphouët-Boigny had it built in his home town, thinking it would become a pilgrimage site. It hasn't, and hardly anyone turns up for services there …

Istana Nurul Iman, Brunei

Not all vanity projects are so wasteful, though. At least the Sultan of Brunei lives inside the Istana Nurul Iman, which was completed in 1984 and is recognised by Guinness World Records as the largest palace in the world. The sultan can make good use of the 200 polo pony stables, 110 car garage and five swimming pools contained within his golden-domed home. Mere mortals just have to stare at it from outside.

See also: The world's weirdest buildings

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