Architecture That Never Was 

Have you ever read about a place or building that no longer exists and been mad because you never got to see it? Okay, maybe it’s just me that pines over buildings; work with me here. I’ll give you an example, years ago I saw a statue similar to this and became obsessed.  

Newly-made sprite available at Nichols Bros Stoneworks

What was it?  

What is it doing?  

Is it praying, please don’t let it be praying.  

Who made this?  

Where can I get one? 

My friends, let me introduce you to a reproduction of a water sprite designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for his Midway Gardens project in Chicago. The facility was built in 1913 and was supposed to be a year-round open-air space for knocking back a few and/or catching a concert. Wright designed everything for the venue, down to the smallest detail, even the tableware.  

Sounds like a cool place, right, especially if it all is so intriguing as that one little statue. One problem, WWI, bad management and Prohibition killed Midway Gardens and it was demolished in 1929. My wee tween brain was pissed and took it as a personal afront. Seriously, 1929 did this to ME. I must have driven my parents crazy in those pre-google days asking about Chicago and buildings and had they see it and why, why, why.  

There are thousands of unique buildings that have disappeared in our lifetimes. I just read about one in Palm Springs, The Canyon Hotel, though honestly, I don’t think I missed much, but who am I to judge another person’s architecture yum. The good news about the whole sprite fiasco for me is that is fostered a love of historic architecture in general and Frank Lloyd Wright specifically. I have books about him, his work and his contemporaries (so many books) and keep a bucket list of his work that I’m slowly working my way through. 

Anyway, what about architecture that never was?  I’d never really thought too deeply about it until reading Phantom Architecture by Phillip Wilkinson. Let me tell you, we really missed out on some of these places that were magical or could have been magical if only the fates had not been stacked against them. 

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Some are silly, some were light years ahead of their time and a few just might have solved all of the world’s problems…or at least a huge problem for a city. Take Thomas Wilson’s solution to cemetery overcrowding in London in the 1820s. What happens when you run out of ground to bury? You build up, my friends, and what better way to do that while copying the great Pyramids of Egypt that were and still are all the rage? We’ll call it the Metropolitan Sepulchre and shove up to five million Londoners in the ninety-foot-tall ode to death. While he never got the green light, his drawings remain. One wonders if, with the high cost of London real estate now, they regret that decision. 

More on the story

This idea that never was is just one of the many phantom architecture dreams that never happened in the book which features a few pages and illustrations for each one. The book is a joy, a harmless romp through history that leaves you wondering what else we’ve missed out on and what might have been. You might call it the ultimate FOMO list for fans of architecture. Sigh

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