Nicole Javorsky is an editorial fellow at Mother Jones, and a former editorial fellow at CityLab.
“I would love to model all of Wright's work, but it is immense,” says architect David Romero. “I do not know if during all my life I will have time.”
When Frank Lloyd Wright died in 1959, he left behind more than 600 unrealized designs and a fiercely devoted fanbase that has only grown with time. One of those fans, Spanish architect David Romero, has been using advanced techniques of 3-D representation over the last few years to transform those visions into images so detailed they almost look like contemporary photographs.
It can be challenging for someone to fully grasp Wright’s unbuilt works from his drawings, since they were often presented from very high points of view. Romero, however, visualizes them from the same perspective an individual would have from a nearby street. In order to achieve such detail, the architect considers not only Wright’s drawings but also any relevant photography, historical context, and built references for each rendering.
Romero referenced photographs of the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan to understand how Wright’s spiral Gordon Strong Automobile Objective southeast of Frederick, Maryland, might have been realized. He says that Wright chose to draw the building, a tourist attraction designed in 1924 to sit atop Maryland’s Sugarloaf Mountain, seen from very high points in order to emphasize its helical ramp. But that meant ignoring the perspective one would have from visiting the building. Romero discovered new nuances through the computer renderings, he tells CityLab. “Thanks to the new points of view, the tower becomes a visually very powerful element that competes in prominence with the helical ramp.”
Since the Gordon Strong Automobile Objective was also meant to serve as a planetarium, Romero knew he wanted to capture the building at night; he gathered photos of dark skies filled with stars and “cars trailed by an electric glow.” Romero also incorporated plans, sections, and elevations, along with Wright’s actual drawings, using programs like AutoCAD and Autodesk 3ds Max. And since the structure was planned for the mid-1920s, Romero include era-appropriate cars.
Wright designed 1,114 architectural works, a wide range of imaginative projects. Of them, 532 were built, including Fallingwater (1939), Unity Temple in Oak Park (1908), and the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo (1922), which was demolished in 1968. There’s also the unbuilt Butterfly Wing Bridge (proposed in 1953), a double arched bridge with a garden in the middle connecting San Francisco and Oakland, which Romero has rendered.
Romero also rendered Wright’s Larkin Administration Building in Buffalo, New York—his first office building—which was built in 1903 and demolished in 1950. “So few living people can remember how it was beyond the black-and-white photographs,” says Romero. He says he felt like the explorer David Livingstone seeing Victoria Falls for the first time when he looked at the completed Larkin renderings on his computer. People have even written to Romero, thanking him for the work. “Larkin is an important work of art within our history and many people, like me, feel an emotional connection with that work,” notes Romero.
Several of these renderings, including the Gordon Strong Automobile Objective, the Butterfly Wing Bridge, and the Roy Wetmore Car Repair and Showroom, were featured in the Fall 2018 edition of the Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly. Jeff Goodman, VP of Communication & Partnerships at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, tells CityLab that he has held up the cover of the magazine, with Romero’s rendering of the Gordon Strong Automobile Objective, asking tour groups if they had ever visited the project. “They’re looking at it like there’s a photo of a building, wondering if they’ve been there, and of course, the answer is it’s impossible,” Goodman says. “They’re looking at a photograph of something that never existed.”
Some of the buildings Wright drew were built long after his death, including the Massaro House (2007) on the private Petre Island in Lake Mahopac, New York, and the Fontana Boathouse (2007) in Buffalo, leading to debates over their authenticity. In fact, one initiative to construct the architect’s unbuilt projects, the Frank Lloyd Wright Revival Initiative, lacked the support of major Frank Lloyd Wright organizations, including the foundation, the trust, and the conservancy, as of 2017. Romero says he was able to avoid controversy about reimagining Wright’s work in the digital sphere because they’re simply, as he puts it, “an honest way to analyze Wright's works with new tools that allow us to contemplate them in a new light.”
According to Goodman, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation plans to work with Romero on one issue of their magazine per year, and envisions an exhibition in the future. There might even be books or prints, depending on demand. Romero welcomed the partnership, and enjoys having access to the foundation’s archive, which contains many of the original drawings.
“I would love to model all of Wright's work, but it is immense,” says Romero. “I do not know if during all my life I will have time.”
Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article listed an incorrect completion year for Fallingwater.