(Bloomberg) -- In 2012, the writers and curators Sam Lubell and Greg Goldin were shown a few models of buildings that were never built. While unremarkable in themselves, the models, sitting in a warehouse on the outskirts of Los Angeles, “gave us the kernel of an idea to look at unbuilt architecture,” Goldin says.

Soon after, Lubell and Goldin curated Never Built Los Angeles, a show at LA’s A+D Museum. They followed a few years later with a show at New York’s Queens Museum, Never Built New York. In each instance, the duo used buildings that were never realized to help explain why our architecture looks and functions as it does today. 

They’ve now released their most ambitious effort to date. After combing through more than 6,000 unbuilt projects from around the world, Goldin and Lubell have compiled about 300 of them into a richly illustrated book, Atlas of Never Built Architecture (Phaidon, $150). The projects run from kooky skyscrapers to fantastical pyramids the size of cities, hotels perched on the side of Machu Picchu, and a “city of the future” with moving walkways to be built on top of New York’s Ellis Island.

Most buildings showcased in the book were ahead of their time in style, use of materials or sheer ambition. “What you see on paper from architects exceeds anything that we see” in the real world, Goldin says. “You’re of course going to come across really great ideas,” he says. “But you also come across a lot of really bad ideas.” 

Even uncompleted, they’ve profoundly affected the world we know. “You see how the currency of an idea that—even if it’s really bad—can circumnavigate the globe,” he says. 

Take, he suggests, the architect Le Corbusier’s 1920s-era “Plan Voisin,” which proposed that a large chunk of central Paris’s Right Bank be bulldozed  and replaced with a cluster of monumental skyscrapers.

“It could be called an architect’s dream and the average person’s nightmare,” Goldin says. Although it was never built, the ideals behind it have since inspired architects to propose something similar in almost every major and midsize city in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. 

Fortunately, Goldin continues, “the great majority of them were not built.” 


The book exclusively comprises public architecture, and all the work that made the final cut is from the 20th and 21st centuries.

A lack of funding is the most common reason these projects were never completed. The Tour Paris-Montréal, for instance, was commissioned by Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau for the Expo 67 world’s fair. The planned 1,066-foot tower was deemed “a work of art which will become one of the best specimens of modern art for the next 30 or 50 years,” said  Pierre Dupuy, Expo’s commissioner-general.

“I read a lot about this, because it was really hard to track this thing down,” says Goldin. “The mayor of Montreal seemed to have the extraordinary drive and power to kind of quasi-commission this thing, so it became his obsession.” But all the motivation in the world wasn’t enough to overcome the building’s cost, which was initially projected to be $20 million and then quickly soared past its estimate. The project was scuttled.

Even taller was star architect IM Pei’s startlingly contemporary, circular “Hyperbloid” skyscraper, which was intended to stand in place of Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal in the mid 1950s. It was commissioned by Robert Young, the chairman of New York Central Railroad.

The building’s design “is truly modern,” Goldin says. “It’s pathbreaking.”

Together with famed New York developer William Zeckendorf, Young fought to build this 1,496-foot tower, which would have been the world’s tallest. When people complained about the proposed destruction of Grand Central, Zeckendorf called it a “second-rate Beaux Arts-building” and declared, “one look and you’ve seen it all.” 

But when Young committed suicide in 1958, plans for the tower were permanently shelved.


Even when decades old, many of the examples in Atlas of Never Built Architecture still appear impossibly futuristic.

The Neapolitan architect Aldo Loris Rossi’s design for a business and residential center on the site of an abandoned Fiat car factory a few miles outside Florence serves up a combination of spires, saucers and slabs. 

“This is a building that’s on a pharaonic scale,” says Goldin. “He’s tapped into a kind of industrial ethos in ways that some painters did in the 1930s, but you don’t see it expressed quite this way in architecture.”

Some of the drawings themselves are, in Goldin’s eyes, a work of art. “It’s a renaissance drawing in the sense that he’s got a vanishing point,” Goldin explains. “There’s a lot of architects whose drawings are so good, even if the buildings wouldn’t have been.”

In this respect, Goldin’s book is an incredible source for discovering little-known architects who, by accident or design, are familiar only to insiders. The Swiss architect Valerio Olgiati, for instance, has a relatively small portfolio of completed projects—about 25, according to the book. (His own Villa Além in Portugal is worth a look.)

“He’s famous for being completely reclusive,” Goldin says. “His work doesn’t really appear outside of where he lives.”

Among the projects Olgiati has yet to complete is the Perm Museum in Russia, the proposal for which he submitted in 2008. The building appears to be designed as a stacked series of boxes resembling birthday presents. “The entertaining thing is the way the floor plates are stacked like a mislaid layer cake,” says Goldin. Submitted for a competition, the design shared first and second prize. The project stalled, according to the book, and was never restarted.

“Things that get proposed in Russia? Very often there’s never any money for them,” Goldin says.

This isn’t intended to be a book of architectural esoterica. Instead, Goldin says, it’s a showcase of the unfettered ideas of architects—some of which eventually trickle into reality.

And it has the unintended effect of demonstrating what our world could look like if all architects got their way.

“Perhaps the unbuilt world is a better place,” Goldin says. “Or maybe it’s a far worse world than the one we presently inhabit.”

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