One-man Construction: 7 Lifelong Personal Projects


All through history there have been people, mostly men, who devote years and years of their lives building something very unique and personal. Lucky for us, these erections are built to last. For the most part.

1. Salvation Mountain

Salvation Mountain in Niland, California is the life's work of Leonard Knight. Knight estimates that he's used around 100,000 gallons of paint to color the adobe sculptures of biblical verses and artwork on the mountain. After becoming a Christian in 1967, Knight wanted to make a big statement of evangelism. His first project, a huge homemade hot air balloon, failed. When he decided to give up on that one, Knight wanted to leave a little something in the California desert. He made a cement monument that grew and grew until it was a hill. It collapsed because he put too much sand in the cement mix. So Knight started over, using adobe, or sun-dried mud and straw bricks. Knight also has structures built of straw bales at his mountain, and a museum made of recycled found objects. He is still adding to the monument at age 77.

2. Moving House

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The house May Alice Savidge bought in Hertfordshire, England in 1947 was built sometime around the year 1450. She spent the next five years restoring it, doing a good bit of the work herself. In 1953, she was told the house would be demolished to make way for a highway. She fought the order until 1969, but then put her backup plan into action. Savidge dismantled the house brick by brick, tile by tile, beam by beam, and had it shipped 100 miles away to Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk. There she reassembled her home exactly as it was in Hertfordshire. The process took 24 years and wasn't quite completed when Savidge died in 1993 at age 81.

3. Personal Cathedral

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Justo Gallego Martinez was stricken with tuberculosis and have to give up his life as a Trappist monk. He prayed to Mary (Nuestra Señora del Pilar) and promised to build her a shrine if he recovered -and he did. Martinez is building his very own cathedral out of recycled materials in Mejorada del Campo near Madrid, Spain. He has no formal training in design or construction. His is a project built on faith. Forty years later, the cathedral dome is forty meters high and the project is near completion. Martinez is aware that he might not live to see the finished product, and that lacking architectural or engineering oversight, the cathedral may be demolished after he is gone. See a video tour of the cathedral.

4. Scrap Metal Art

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Tom Every retired from the scrap metal business with a large collection of vintage metal of every kind you can imagine. He created the Forevertron in Prairie Du Sac, Wisconsin. At 320 tons, the Forevertron is considered to be the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world. It's just one of the many sculptures Every has created that you can see in Dr. Evermor's Art Park. (image credit:

5. The Temple

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Alec Garrard has spent 30 years building a faithful (if miniature) recreation of the Temple in Jerusalem as built by Herod that stood from 19 BC to 70 AD. The original Temple grounds covered 36 acres. Garrard's version is 12 feet by 20 feet.

For his part, Mr Garrard, 78, has dedicated 33,000 hours to constructing his model and has hand-baked and painted every clay brick and tile and even sculpted 4,000 tiny human figures to populate the courtyards. Historical experts believe the model, which has attracted thousands of visitors from all over the globe, is the best representation in the world of what the Jewish temple actually looked like.

6. Labor of Love

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19-year-old Liu Guojiang fell in love with an older woman, a 29-year-old widow with children named Xu Chaoqin. They eloped and went to live in a cave high on a mountain near Chongqing, China to escape the scandal in their local village. To make the trip down the mountain easier for his bride, Liu began carving steps into the stone of the mountainside. Did I mention it was a high mountain? He carved 6,000 steps! Fifty years later, in 2001, their story came to light when the steps were discovered by explorers. They were still in love and still living in a cave with no electricity. Liu passed away in 2007, holding his wife's hand. Their story was serialized in China and considered to be one of the best love stories of the year.

7. The Watts Towers

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I was working on this list when I was sidetracked by the Watts Towers a few months ago and wrote an entire post about them. Simon Rodia spent 34 years building the 17 structures in Los Angeles. (image credit: BenFrantzDale)
This is by no means an exhaustive list of one-man (or woman) projects. The world is filled with amazing structures and projects that people spend their lives creating.