The great American architect’s titular foundation is helping to digitally render his unbuilt structures and reintroduce office furniture pieces pulled from the archives. Both projects suggest there’s still ample wisdom to plumb from Wright’s work—and he would’ve loved experimenting with DALL-E.
Frank Lloyd Wright is widely regarded as one of history’s great and most prolific architects. By the time he died, in 1959, the visionary designed more than 1,100 structures stretching over seven decades. But a whopping 660 of those buildings remain unrealized, seemingly relegated to obscurity. Given how he masterminded some of modern architecture’s most iconic hallmarks—Fallingwater, the Guggenheim Museum, and Taliesin among them—it’s difficult to grasp how different today’s design landscape might look if his lost buildings were actualized.
Thanks to a collaboration between Spanish architect David Romero and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation (FLWF), design enthusiasts can finally do so. Romero started recreating two seminal Wright structures—Buffalo’s Larkin Administration Building and the Pauson House in Phoenix—to fine-tune his rendering skills. Their crisp visuals impressed Stuart Graff, the FLWF’s president and CEO, who encouraged Romero to continue the project and publish the renderings in its quarterly magazine. The latest batch is stunning: a needle-like mile-high skyscraper along the Chicago River; a foliage-filled bridge to serve as a southern crossing of San Francisco Bay; a rotund planetarium near Maryland’s Sugarloaf Mountain, which Romero thinks would be one of Wright’s most celebrated designs had it seen the light.
Wright’s architecture embodies early 20th-century cultural values, extolling a country of citizens harmoniously connected to each other and the land. Some may bristle at the notion of using digital technology to visualize buildings that never left the drawing board, especially as rapid advances in AI are casting a mood of uncertainty over creative industries. However, Wright’s past statements—“that technology could and should be embraced as a powerful tool for a wide variety of creative and stylistic expressions,” as described by the FLWF—suggest maybe he would embrace exploring digitally generated architecture. “[Our] focus is how to use Wright’s work to inspire a new generation of designers,” Graff told AD, “and present Wright in ways that encourage people to take his ideas and act on them.”
If the FLWF’s latest feat is any indication, there’s still wisdom to glean from Wright’s work. The Johnson Wax Headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin, endures as one of his most beloved structures and a marvel of 20th-century engineering. Upon the building’s completion, in 1939, he even hailed it as “an inspiring place to work as any cathedral ever was to worship in.” Looking upon the interior’s grid of towering lilypad columns and range of furniture designed specifically for the office, it’s hard to argue with that sentiment. Guided by organic design principles, the collection encompasses rounded desks, matching chairs, and rolling carts that rebuffed the era’s embrace of hard-edged office furniture.
Thanks to a new partnership between the FLWF and Steelcase, the original manufacturer of the office’s furniture, the collection is being faithfully reinterpreted for the work-from-home era. The newly reintroduced pieces include a tiered desk, lounge chair, and utility table in Wright’s original burnished red and spruce, available in a range of new dimensions. Given that the original pieces allowed for greater flexibility in the workplace, Graff says it feels apt to reintroduce the renditions at a time when modern work is undergoing a paradigm shift.“As we stride into a new millennium, and grapple with architecture’s responsibility to embrace the tools and embody the values of our time and place,” the FLWF notes, “we must acknowledge that in all of this, Wright walked before us.”