From the Fallingwater private retreat in Pennsylvania, to the iconic Guggenheim Museum in New York, American architect Frank Lloyd Wright left behind one of the greatest legacies of modern architecture history when he passed away in 1959. Throughout his career, Wright designed an impressive roster of more than 1100 structures, but more than half — a staggering 660 buildings — remain unbuilt and unknown to many.
Six decades later, Spanish architect David Romero has taken on the challenge to resurrect some of these designs, along with demolished buildings from the Wright archives in hyperreal three-dimensional renderings. Since 2018, Romero has published his renderings in The Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly, a print magazine published to members of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Not unlike planning for structures IRL, Romero's process involves analyzing materials, the natural environment, historical context and built references.
Romero recently added three more buildings to his collection of Wright renderings, which focuses on the late architect’s vision for skyscrapers, including a mile-high tower in Chicago.
The tallest of the three and perhaps Wright’s most famous design that never came to be — The Illinois — is a supertall skyscraper unveiled by Wright in 1956. Wright boasted that "the Empire State Building would be a mouse by comparison" when he conceived the building, which was proposed to be proposed to be over 1 mile (1600 m) tall — that’s more than four times the height of The Empire State Building, and almost twice as tall as the Burj Khalifa, currently the world’s tallest building.
In his 1957 book, A Testament, the architect detailed his plan to include a whopping 528 stories and 18 million square feet of space in the building, accessible by a single elevator, with no staircase at all (apparently Wright believed that because his building was fireproof, fire precautions would be unnecessary). Considered a wildly ambitious project in both scale and design, it (thankfully) never found a client or site to be realized.
“Crystal City,” otherwise known as “Crystal Heights,” is described by The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation as "an example of mixed-use development decades ahead of its time." Designed in the late 1940s, the development was originally intended to take up the undeveloped tracts of the Oak Lawn estate in Washington D.C, with a master plan that includes a hotel, apartment buildings, a shopping center, and a 1000-seat theater — a variety of uses which were almost unheard of at the time. The series of towers were linked together in a U shape, rising between 16 to 18 stories. However, due to conflicts with D.C. zoning laws, Wright’s vision was never realized.
Another unactualized skyscraper for Chicago, Wright’s 1923 design for The National Life Insurance Building was a 25-story glass tower comprising four identical wings clad with copper panels. Not only does the building look incredibly futuristic for the 1920s, it is also innovative in the sense that the architect was able to combine historic revival details popular of that era with modern building techniques such as light curtain wall materials to maximize daylight and natural ventilation.
According to The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Wright designed the building as a tribute to his mentor and influential architect, Louis Sullivan. "If given the opportunity, Wright might have followed Sullivan’s example of finding creative and organic solutions to advancing the possibilities of the steel frame," the foundation notes.