Unbuilt architecture can be as compelling as built. Unbuilt projects tend to take on a life of their own, feeding the imaginations of aficionados and fueling debates among critics. Inevitably these projects are usually unbuildable for some combination of reasons: cost, regulations, local opposition, or simply because the site is not available. Unbuilt villas have become a subgenre in their own right: from Palladio’s famous “Red Book” to Rudolph Schindler’s unrealized cabin designs; from Mies van der Rohe’s unrealized Farnsworth House blueprints to Sou Fujimoto’s non-existent Glass Hillside House proposal. Unbuilt projects are often more accessible than built ones, so it pays to know how to recognize unbuildable ideas before investing time and energy into them.
What makes a good Unbuilt Villa?
A good unbuilt villa has many of the same qualities that a well-built one does. A compelling project should be site-specific, have a well-articulated program, and have a clear architectural concept. All of these things can be conveyed in unbuilt projects simply by describing the project, showing renderings, or a combination of the two. A great unbuilt project also leaves room for interpretation. It is open-ended enough that readers can plug their own desires into the project, while still being faithful to the architect’s intentions. A great unbuilt project is also timeless. It is not tied to a specific period or architectural style but is instead an expression of architectural ideals that are always relevant.
Ask the right questions
An unbuilt project should be driven by a question. The question may be architectural, cultural, or simply what would happen if you applied these architectural ideas to this particular site? The best-unbuilt projects are ones that are driven by a question, rather than a desire to build a particular architectural style or building type. This is a way of thinking that applies to all forms of architectural practice, whether you’re designing a specific project or not. A question can give your practice a sense of direction, generating new ideas and concepts that might not have come up if you had started with a preconceived notion of what you wanted to do.
Don’t rely on digital renders
Unbuilt projects invariably wind up being digitally rendered. It’s hard for readers to visualize these projects in three dimensions or understand how they might have worked in reality. Unfortunately, many unbuilt projects are little more than a series of digital images, with little to no architectural analysis or thoughtful reflection. Good unbuilt projects don’t just provide images—they also analyze the project and discuss its significance. These projects are also grounded in the architecture of the past, as well as the built work of the present.
Find the sweet spot between program and form
An unbuilt project should be driven by architecture. However, it is often easier to talk about the program—the client and the needs of the site—than it is to talk about the architectural concept. While it’s easy to talk about how a building will look, it’s much harder to talk about why it has that particular architectural form. A great unbuilt project will have a clear architectural concept. It will have a sense of architectural identity that comes from form and material choices, as well as from a certain rhythm or movement. These are the things that makeup architecture. When talking about the project, try to talk about the architecture, not the program.
Design from the inside out, and make rooms feel larger
Unbuilt projects tend to be driven by grand gestures, or trying to achieve the maximum impact. These projects tend to be dominated by forms that are very large and very small at the same time. They tend to be either extremely volumetric and very articulated, or they’re extremely delicate and filigree. The best-unbuilt projects are ones that are well-balanced. They’re not overly volumetric or delicate, but they’re not overly minimalistic either. They’re well-proportioned, and they make rooms feel larger by having plenty of negative space to look out to.
Avoid excessive ornamentation or delicate detailing
Unbuilt projects often make the mistake of being too decorative for the site or location. The project is so focused on being ornamental or detailed that it loses its sense of architectural integrity, becoming difficult to maintain. The best-unbuilt projects are those that are not overly decorative or detailed. They don’t need to be overly decorative because they have a clear architectural concept and a sense of architectural identity. Unbuilt projects also sometimes get carried away with delicate detailing. This is often a result of trying to achieve a sense of modernity as if to compensate for being off the grid with no connection to the past. The best-unbuilt projects are ones that don’t shy away from ornamentation, but they don’t rely on excessive decoration either.
Don’t use 3D modeling for an Unbuilt Villa
Unbuilt projects are often presented with 3D modeling. This is something that’s become increasingly common with architectural competitions. However, it’s something that’s rarely done with unbuilt projects. When 3D modeling an unbuilt project, there’s a tendency to focus on form and material. These are the things that are easiest to model and are most visible. However, while they might be the most visible qualities of an unbuilt project, they are not the most important ones. Architecture is about more than form and material. It’s about how these things are arranged in space. Architecture is about the rhythmic organization of materials and the spatial experience these elements create.
Be authentic and embrace constraints
Unbuilt projects are fantasies, so there’s no reason not to go all out with crazy ideas and fantasy buildings. However, the best-unbuilt projects don’t go overboard. They embrace the limitations of the site and neighbouring buildings, while still being ambitious with the proposed architecture. They don’t use unfeasible materials or forms, but they don’t shy away from the challenge either. The best-unbuilt projects are those that know their limits. These projects try to push architectural thinking as far as it can go, while still being grounded in reality.
Unbuilt architecture can be as compelling as built. Unbuilt projects tend to take on a life of their own, feeding the imaginations of aficionados and fueling debates among critics. Inevitably these projects are usually unbuildable for some combination of reasons: cost, regulations, local opposition, or simply because the site is not available. Unbuilt projects can be as compelling as built ones, but they need to be driven by a question, not a desire to build a particular architectural style or building type. They need to be well-proportioned and make rooms feel larger, not overly volumetric or delicate. They need to embrace the limitations of the site and neighbouring buildings, while pushing architectural thinking as far as it can go.