When we speak about design that remained on paper and never got to the construction stage, we often imagine ill-conceived projects declined for being not forward enough or poorly executed. Maybe they lacked an understanding of context and function and had a horrible layout or appearance.
But the reality is much more complicated. Outstanding design that is too forward or experimental for its age gets rejected just as often as poorly conceived proposals. The lack of appropriate construction technology or sufficient funding may lead to the project's rejection, while political and social turmoil halts execution plans. In architectural competitions, there is often more than one outstanding entry. The losing proposals are not necessarily worse than the winning ones, as there are many factors taken into consideration during the selection process. The outstanding architectural quality of the project is just one such factor.
Unrealized proposals are just as critical as the existing buildings for understanding the state of architecture. Design projects contain all the necessary information about an era's predominant aesthetics and architectural sentiments, technological capacity, and grand visions. They form a library of visions, an archive of ideas on what architecture is and how it should be. They also catalog the personal creative achievements of architects and add an extra layer of understanding of their skill and imagination that is not always clear from realized proposals alone.
Digital architectural visualization of such rejected outstanding projects forms a parallel universe. Renderings become an alternative reality that expands and explains our own or serves as a reference point in architectural studies. Rejected competition entries provide a reference point for comparative analysis. When we study the unrealized design, research sometimes turns out more encompassing than if we stuck to the erected buildings. For instance, architectural utopian visions of the 1930s USSR are most evident in the 1933 grand proposal for The Palace of the Soviets that entered construction but was abandoned because of its sheer mass.
Illustration: unrealized 1934 proposal for The Palace of the Soviets by Boris Iofan is crucial in understanding the different stages of the USSR architectural program and Soviet communism architectural utopia.
Archviz plays a special role in the preservation and study of unrealized design. Quality realistic and hyperreal visualization provides an understanding of the architect’s vision that goes far deeper than technical documentation and old-school handmade renderings. Digital renderings suggest how the buildings may have looked related to their surroundings. Archviz enriches a purely intellectual detached perspective of a scholar with emotional and sensual perception, for which pure imagination may be insufficient.
A good case study of how digital archviz applies to the preservation and study of unrealized design is the digitally recreated rejected proposals for the Sydney opera house.
Sydney opera house was designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon. But his winning proposal was just one of the 222 entries of the 1956 competition. In 2019 Budget Direct Australia with NeoMam Studios rendered the seven most prominent alternative proposals and photoshopped them in place of the existing opera house.
This visualization effort at least partly answered the question that plagued the minds of many architecture students: why was Utzon’s design chosen in the first place? It is well-known that Utzon’s proposal was considered unorthodox after completion. Its sculpturesque and provocative shape became the pun of many jokes. Burt what of the other designs? Then why hasn’t the jury selected something less controversial? Thanks to Budget Direct Australia with NeoMam Studios we have the answer. Not surprisingly, most competing proposals were too period-specific, too easily identifiable as the product of the late 1950s – early 1960s. They lacked the timeless quality of the winning entry. Nor were they as iconic or instantly recognizable as Jørn Utzon’s seashell-inspired shape.
Illustration: a rejected proposal for Sydney Opera by Peter Kollar and Balthazar Korab. A 2019 visyalization by Budget Direct Australia and NeoMam Studios.
However, the proposal by Peter Kollar and Balthazar Korab also holds historical value. The curvilinear and broken, almost deconstructivist shapes of their project serve as surprising precursors to Frank Gehry’s concert halls.
Another initiative that demonstrates the value of archviz for the history of architecture is the visualization of three unbuilt projects by Frank Lloyd Wright. Those visualizations were ordered by Angi (formerly Angie's List), an American home services website. Frank Lloyd Wright is arguably the most famous and influential American architect of the first part of the 20th century. However, more than half of Wright's designs never reached the construction stage. Therefore, realistic visualization of three previously unseen works enriches our understanding of this highly creative architect. This experience could never be reached from looking at technical drawings alone: “Wright’s plans and visualizations are things of beauty, but to experience how his unrealized sketches might feel requires a great leap.”
Illustration: a visualization of one of Frank Lloyd Wright's unbuilt projects, a Cottage Studio for Ayn Rand
Contemporary digital visualization creates and preserves crucial knowledge that was completely unavailable to architecture scholars of the past. New data on the feel of the building proves to be pivotal for architecture as a discipline.
Header illustration: a rejected proposal for Sydney Opera by Philadelphia Collaborative Group. A 2019 visualization by Budget Direct Australia and NeoMam Studios.