Frank Lloyd Wright’s work is known by many for its simplicity and harmony with nature. Wright’s prevalent designs in Arizona and beyond are a testament to the way we can build and live organically, making Wright one of the greatest architects of all time. However, Wright’s projects that still stand today are only a glimpse of his work; the architect designed more than 1,000 projects, yet less than half of these designs were ever realized.
Spanish architect David Romero is making it possible for the public to see what Wright’s unrealized projects may have looked like by creating 3D computer representations of the famous architect’s designs.
“It all started about 10 years ago as a way to improve my skills in using advanced software in the 3D representation of architectural projects,” says Romero. “At that time, an impressive video appeared made by a 3D artist Alex Roman that showed buildings digitally recreated realistically. The funny thing is that it recreated buildings that already existed, so I thought, ‘What would happen if I did the same but with buildings that don’t exist?’”
Romero works professionally as an architect in Madrid but has dedicated the past 10 years to studying Wright’s work and recreating his buildings that were demolished or never completed. While creating 3D representations of Wright’s work is a hobby for Romero, he has collaborated with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation in recent years, which publishes Romero’s creations annually in their quarterly magazine.
“While we will never know the true experience of visiting an unbuilt Wright design, these renderings can convey a bit more sense of space and light than the drawings alone,” says Stuart Graff, the foundation’s president and CEO, in a statement. “There are approximately 660 Wright designs that were never built. As we wonder what might have been if these designs had been realized, Romero’s work gives us a sense of Wright’s innovative genius that we can continue to learn from and be inspired by.”
“Frank Lloyd Wright has been my hero since the time I studied architecture at university. If we assume that art can unite the rational and intellectual with the world of emotions, in my case, no other architect excites me as much as the work of Frank Lloyd Wright,” says Romero.
Each of Romero’s 3D renderings provides photorealistic illustrations of Wright’s designs, giving viewers an accurate and complete picture of what the architect’s work might have looked like today. Digital recreations of Wright’s unbuilt designs by Romero include Valley National Bank in Tucson, Ariz., the Arizona State Capitol and the Thomas C. Lea House in North Carolina, among others.
“Two of my recreations are of buildings that have unfortunately been demolished, these are the Larkin Administration Building [in Buffalo, N.Y.] and the Pauson House [in Phoenix, Ariz.]. It is very sad when a work of art disappears, so I have an emotional connection with those two projects,” Romero shares. “Before my recreations appeared, there were only black and white photographs of these projects, so I am glad to have contributed to allowing us to see them in color and in all their splendor.”
Using published resources, like academic articles and books, as well as Wright’s actual drawings ranging from sketches to complete construction details, Romero can create 3D models of Wright’s work on specific software that allows him to add light, texture and touch-ups to the designs, resulting in images that look like a photograph.
Romero shares his work on hookedonthepast.com, where visitors can discover the stories behind his digital representations of Wright’s projects, view a complete gallery of his designs and learn more about his creation process.
A building with a brick facade sits on a Union Square side street, offering little clue as to what lies inside, except for a small sign declaring “appointments only” and a red tile with a scribbled etching in the lower left corner.
The latter is the signature of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and the building, known as the V.C. Morris Gift Shop, is his only fully realized design in San Francisco. The building’s current patron is the high-end Italian menswear boutique inside, ISAIA, which is frequented by arguably one of the most fashionable men in The City — former Mayor Willie Brown.
“He (Brown) comes here every other week. Not always to shop. He comes to make sure that we're good and just say hello,” said Tarek Hafez, the director of client experience for ISAIA’s 140 Maiden Lane location.
Hafez, who called Brown “one of the best-dressed politicians who ever lived,” has worked in the Wright building for all but one of the six years ISAIA has called it home. He has grown to love the building, despite the quirks associated with operating out of a historic landmark.
“We were very careful to keep the dignity intact on the building itself,” he said. “Other than what's original in the building, all our fixtures are away from the wall. That's not traditional.”
Nothing on display is attached to the walls, as ISAIA isn’t allowed to drill holes. Maintaining the landmark is a labor of love, too.
Cleaning the fragile, bubbled-glass ceiling requires Hafez to shut down the store for two full days.
“Nothing comes easy,” he said. “To enjoy the building, we have to sacrifice.”
Many of the building’s visitors don’t come for the clothes, but for its historical and architectural significance. Designed in 1948, the V.C. Morris Gift Shop contains similar elements to Wright’s design for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, including a spiral walkway.
“He really started working on the Guggenheim in ‘43,” said John Waters, the preservations program manager for the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. The David and Gladys Wright house in Phoenix also has similar features.
“They're very much tied together,” he added.
Design sensibility is where the similarities end, as Waters noted the gift shop is a “major renovation” of a previously existing building and not original construction.
Initially built in 1911, V.C. and Lillian Morris acquired the building around 1937 to house their high-end shop, which Waters said sold silverware and dishware, among other items. They had previously commissioned Wright for two residential designs near Cliff House, neither of which came to fruition.
The couple asked him to design their store in either 1946 or 1947, according to San Francisco Planning Department history, and Wright completed the drawings in 1948 and construction was finished the following year.
Wright’s design was markedly different from retail shops at the time, and it still stands out today. The majority of its facade is a brick wall, with a small, arched brick-and-glass entrance that Waters called a “vault.”
“I think you could say the exterior was intended to intrigue people,” Waters said. “Retail is always about manipulation.”
The City designated the building a historic landmark in 1975, amending it 41 years later to include the interior.
Despite the landmark status, the building isn’t easily accessible to walk-in visitors. Hafez, ISAIA’s director of client experience in the Wright-designed building, said the store struggles sometimes with balancing the needs of customers and history-seeking tourists.
“We used to have an enormous amount of architects coming to visit,” said Hafez. “We were happy to accommodate them, but it was too much to the point that it was interrupting the business in a big way.”
Rick Evans, a historical architecture tour guide in San Francisco, ran into the problem head-on last year when he said a group of about 20 Japanese businessmen, all fans of Wright, were eager to go inside.
“Out of 22 buildings I talk about in San Francisco, that was the only one they wanted to talk about,” he recalled.