(CNN) — Imagine if Central Park had been inspired by the gardens of a French palace.
There would be spiral-patterned shrubs designed to resemble stars and flowers at every turn, a parade ground, a shooting range — and almost no open space.
That was the vision that park engineer John J Rink submitted to a 1857 competition to design the first public landscaped park in the United States. His idea didn’t win. Instead, architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux ended up designing Central Park.
Preserved by the New York Historical Society, Rink’s drawings were brought to life in a series of renderings released in November, commissioned by Australia-based travel insurance company Budget Direct.
Rink’s designs are “fantastical” and could never have been built, says Sara Cedar Miller, a historian who has worked at the Central Park Conservancy since 1984, and who played an instrumental role in rediscovering the sketches in the early 2000s.
“It entirely disregards the topography (of the park),” she explains. “How could you look at this as spirals, and circles, and stars?
“It’s beautiful as a design, but it’s like a pattern that you would sit and cross-stitch.”
Central Park isn’t the only famous site that could have had an entirely different look. Some of the most famous sites in the world also had alternative designs.
Arc de Triomphe, Paris
The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile (“Triumphal Arch of the Star”) features a single arch, measuring 50 meters high. A key place of major events in the French capital, it was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806. The structure was designed by Jean-François Chalgrin and opened in 1836.
But the Arc de Triomphe could have been a statue of an animal, if things had gone the way French architect Charles Ribart wanted.
Ribart envisioned an elephant-shaped monument that would consist of three stories, connected by a spiral staircase. The elephant’s “trunks” would house the drainage system.
Tower Bridge, London
Could Tower Bridge still have become one of the greatest landmarks in London if it hadn’t have been built in the iconic Gothic-style favored by British architect Horace Jones?
Completed in 1894, the bridge was built to ease increasing traffic in the city, while also allowing vessels to pass the River Thames beneath. A number of designs were submitted in an open competition, and in 1877, architect F J Palmer proposed a bridge that had two roundabout-like loops at either end. Each had a platform that could be removed to make way for passing ships.
Sydney Opera House
Eugene Goossens, a composer and the conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, dreamed of the Australian city opening its own opera house. His proposed design for the venue, submitted to an open competition, is a simple, practical structure by the water.
However, Danish architect Jørn Utzon’s design — with the distinctive curved facade that’s a familiar sight today — won the competition. The Sydney Opera House was completed in 1973.
Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC
The imposing Lincoln Memorial, built in 1922, is a tribute to President Abraham Lincoln.
But instead of majestic columns and high ceilings, try to picture a pyramid-like structure in the heart of the US capital — and on the back of your five dollar bill.
Architects Henry Bacon and John Russell Hope both submitted their ideas to the Lincoln Memorial Commission in 1912. Bacon’s design, inspired by Greek architecture, was chosen in favor of Pope’s, which was in the style of a ziggurat, a tiered edifice that originated in ancient Mesopotamia.