The Ugly Truth Behind the World’s Most Beautiful Structures

November 23, 2017


Work Safety


Ayla Dolan-Evans

Some of the greatest wonders of the world are man made structures that defy gravity or inspire admiration of their beauty and design. 

Impressive architectural constructions draw millions of tourists to destinations such as Paris, New York and Sydney; making buildings incredibly valuable assets for local economies.

We stand in awe of incredible buildings, bridges, stadiums and roads, but do you ever consider what went into the build of these groundbreaking structures? Often these beautiful creations are at the expense of those who built into; literally pouring blood, sweat and tears into their work with little reward. We’ve investigated some of the most famous constructions that are also cemeteries of mistreated workers. 

The Louvre Abu Dhabi 

Louvre Abu Dhabi in construction

Opened on November 11th 2017, The Louvre Abu Dhabi is nothing short of a masterpiece of architecture. The newly finished construction nods to its French counterpart with an enviable collection of art and equally as impressive exterior. 

However, the employees behind this incredible beauty live and work in squalid conditions. Reports have arisen of confiscated passports and construction bosses essentially holding the builders hostage. Any complaint or protest is brutally punished with many workers being deported penniless as pay is commonly withheld for months. There is limited information on numbers of workers whom perished in the build as foreign reports trying to investigate were held by the government for questioning and then banned from re-entering the region. Despite all the complaints and claims of horrendous working conditions the head architect of the build has denied all allegations. 

Sydney Harbour Bridge


Sydney Habour Bridge

Beginning in 1925, the construction of Sydney Harbour Bridge was an 8 year project during the Great Depression Era. Despite the backbreaking work, jobs on the bridge were highly prized as unemployment rates soared. The build was so dangerous that priority was given to ex-servicemen from World War I who wouldn’t shy away from the risky tasks and death defying heights. 

Lawrence Ennis, the construction chief of the project, commented that “Every day those men went onto the bridge, they went in the same way as a soldier goes to battle, not knowing whether they would come down alive or not.” Sure enough, it is recorded that 16 workers fell to their deaths during the building of the bridge. Most reports from the construction describe workers being paid well but given awfully risky working conditions with little to no regard for their health or safety. 

Empire State Building

Empire State Building

The iconic Empire State Building was completed in an astounding 13 months in 1930. Working for only $15 a day, the 3400 workers did extremely strenuous hard labour at a record fast pace, with the average weekly rate of the build being an entire 4.5 floors. 

It is rumoured that hundreds of men working on the building perished but official records maintain that only 5 employees slipped to their deaths. 

The Whitehouse 

The Whitehouse

Construction of The Whitehouse began in 1792 as the luxurious headquarters for the United States presidents. African American slaves were “rented” from their masters by the government for the build, with the wages going directly to the masters household and the enslaved workers not seeing a cent. Many of the slave workers were based in the quarry, completing backbreaking work cutting and transporting enormous stones for the mansion. 

Although the horrific working conditions and dangerous work suggests that many would have perished during construction it is unknown how many due to no record keeping of the enslaved workers outside of how much their masters were paid. After being destructed in war, slave labour was used once again to rebuild between 1814-1818. Despite the horrific history of the iconic American building The Whitehouse displays no recognition or memorial of the enslaved workers who built it. 

City Center Las Vegas

The City Centre Las Vegas

The City Center of Las Vegas is the largest privately financed construction project in US history. Costing a staggering $9.2 billion, the construction spans 76 acres and was completed in 3 years by 6000 workers. 

The project was nicknamed “City Cemetery” by striking workers in 2009 for its terrible working conditions. 6 workers died from falls or being struck by objects and it was claimed very little regard was given to the employees safety. 

2022 Qatar World Cup Stadiums 

Qatar World Cup Stadium

Since being awarded as host nation in 2010 over 1200 workers have died constructing the World Cup stadiums in Qatar. To put that figure in context, the next highest death rate for constructing a sporting venue was 60 for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics followed by 40 for the 2004 Athens Olympics. It is predicted at least a staggering 4000 workers will die before construction is completed in 2022. 

It has been reported that employees have their passports confiscated and are surprised on their first day of work with a huge “signing up fee” which translates to handing over years of pay to their employer. These essential enslaved workers often work 12 hour days for 6 days a week in extreme heat and terrible conditions. 

Stadium labourers are turned away from local shopping centres and restaurants as they are essentially viewed as unworthy slaves. These “family zones” allow only westerners or locals to visit. 

Deaths aren’t properly accounted for and the Qatar government don’t even order postmortem examinations. 

We admire and love buildings and other manmade structures for their beauty and design, but what about the human cost of such constructions? When will society value human life over economic progress? Until governments prioritise the safety of workers our incredible building achievements will continue to be tarnished by human sacrifice. 

Ayla Dolan-Evans

Ayla is a Brisbane based communications professional and writer. She focusses on workplace health and safety and legal issues.

Ayla is a Brisbane based communications professional and writer. She focusses on workplace health and safety and legal issues.