Frank Lloyd Wright, the renowned American architect and co-creator of the Prairie School movement, left an indelible mark on the world of architecture with over 1,000 structures during his illustrious seven-decade career. While many of his designs have become iconic, it may come as a surprise that fewer than half of Wright’s creations were actually built. Sadly, some of his existing works have been lost to time. However, thanks to the digital wizardry of Spanish architect David Romero, we can now catch a glimpse of what these unrealized structures might have looked like.
David Romero’s Fascination: In an email conversation with Smithsonian magazine, David Romero revealed that his project to recreate Frank Lloyd Wright’s unbuilt designs began as a personal endeavor to enhance his skills in architectural rendering software tools. Romero’s passion for Wright’s architecture prompted him to embark on a mission to digitally resurrect these demolished or never-realized buildings, purely from an academic standpoint.
Digital Reconstructions Come to Life: Romero’s efforts have resulted in more than 20 stunning digital reconstructions of Wright’s unbuilt projects, which he showcases on his website, Hooked on the Past. Using cutting-edge 3D representation techniques, his photorealistic images are strikingly detailed, with some nearly mistaken for actual photographs. In Romero’s artistic process, he approaches the task akin to a photographer, striving to capture the essence of the building while showcasing its beauty. The level of realism achieved through virtual recreation is truly awe-inspiring, with layers of intricate details meticulously added until the image comes alive.
The Collaboration with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation: The year 2018 marked a significant milestone in Romero’s project when the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation commissioned him to render some of Wright’s most ambitious works for their quarterly magazine. Each series of images centered around a specific theme, such as automobile-related designs. Most recently, Romero took on the challenge of visualizing Wright’s unrealized skyscraper projects for the foundation. Stuart Graff, the foundation’s president and CEO, highlighted the significance of these renderings in a statement, noting how they offer a glimpse into the spatial qualities and play of light that drawings alone cannot convey. With approximately 660 unbuilt Wright designs, Romero’s work allows us to continue learning from and finding inspiration in Wright’s innovative genius.
Source Material and Unveiling Surprises: The source material for Romero’s renderings varies depending on the extent of Wright’s progress in the design process and the availability of sketches or plans. It is truly remarkable that nearly all of Wright’s drawings have been preserved, given that several of his houses suffered from fires over the years. Regardless of the level of documentation, Romero admits that he is always amazed when his work finally takes shape, bringing to life the grandeur of Wright’s visions.
“Frank Lloyd Wright hated cities. He thought that they were cramped and crowded, stupidly designed, or, more often, built without any sense of design at all,” wrote the New Yorker’s Morgan Meis in 2014. “He once wrote, ‘To look at the plan of a great city is to look at something like the cross-section of a fibrous tumor.’ Wright was always looking for a way to cure the cancer of the city. For him, the central problem was that cities lacked essential elements like space, air, light and silence.”
That didn’t stop Wright from attempting to design cities he’d be willing to live in, incorporating both naturalistic elements (like copious green spaces) and futuristic ones (like public transportation options that didn’t exist yet) into his schemes.
Wright began designing the Broadacre City concept in the 1920s and continued to fiddle with the idea for many years, including it in his 1932 book, The Disappearing City. Wright intended Broadacre’s design to democratize city living, decentralizing the existing structures of power and privilege. Farmland, freestanding houses and apartment buildings are all incorporated into the same small society.
“Broadacre City is the biggest model I have done to date,” says Romero. “It took me a year to finish it.”
Lake Tahoe Summer Colony
Wright wasn’t commissioned to design this project. But inspiration struck, and he started work on it in 1923, hoping to one day obtain land at a site in Emerald Bay through a partnership with the owner. Wright imagined an array of cottages along the shores of Lake Tahoe, as well as long wooden piers and a fleet of cabins, like houseboats, afloat in the water.
Romero’s images show only the Adirondack-style floating cabins, “a small part of a huge project that Wright did and that I hope to resume one day,” he says.
Arizona Capitol Building
“One of Frank Lloyd Wright’s greatest buildings may be one that he never built—the Arizona State Capitol, an unbuilt oasis of democracy in the Sonoran Desert,” writes the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
In 1957, Wright caused an uproar in Arizona by submitting his uncommissioned plans for a new state capitol building. Critiques ran the gamut—from expected costs to stylistic choices—and Wright’s design, which was intended as a gift to the state, was ultimately passed over.
“Arizona Capitol is a very interesting project,” says Romero. “[It was] the largest scale that I had faced yet, so it was a challenge.”
Back in the 1940s, the Morris family commissioned Wright to create a coastal haven on a rocky outcropping overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Ten years later, they reached back out and asked Wright for a less expensive version of the same design, known as Seacliff, to which he obliged. Despite the cheaper revisions, the Morris family never pulled the trigger on the project.
Romero notes that extensive plans for both projects were easy for him to obtain, so he didn’t have to speculate about any of the details.
National Life Insurance Building
This “25-story glass fortress” in Chicago was “not only stunning, but very forward-thinking for the time, as so many other buildings of the era were being designed with historic revival details,” says the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation in a statement. If built, the skyscraper would have “changed the city’s skyline forever” and “served as a tribute” to Wright’s mentor, the experimental architect Louis Sullivan.
Gordon Strong Automobile Objective
This 1920s building, commissioned by Chicago businessman Gordon Strong, was intended to sit atop Maryland’s Sugarloaf Mountain and serve as a tourist attraction. Plans for the multi-use space included a planetarium, a restaurant and a scenic overlook.
To create this rendering, Romero referenced photographs of Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in New York. “It is a pity that it could not be built,” he says. “If it had, I think it would be one of his most celebrated designs.”
Conclusion: Thanks to David Romero’s dedication and talent, we can now venture into the realm of Frank Lloyd Wright’s lost architecture. Through his digital reconstructions, we gain a glimpse of the extraordinary structures that never materialized, but whose innovative spirit continues to inspire us today. As we marvel at Romero’s finished illustrations, we pay homage to the enduring legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright and his remarkable contributions to the world of architecture.