Unbuilt Matters

Unbuilt Villa: 
Exploring Architectural Inventions and Shaping the Future of Design


Architecture encompasses more than physical structures; it reflects the ideas, theories, and philosophies that shape our built environment. Unbuilt projects serve as a testing ground for pioneering architects to bring theory into practice, pushing boundaries and challenging norms. While completed buildings often take the spotlight, unbuilt projects hold equal significance. These unrealized visions shape the evolution of architecture, showcasing visionary thinking and providing insights into design philosophies.
Villas, in particular, offer an ideal setting for exploring architectural inventions. Unbuilt villa projects are designs that never materialized due to various reasons, existing only on paper, scale model, or in digital form. They allow architects to experiment without practical or budget constraints, exploring new ideas, materials, and technologies. By envisioning alternative ways of dwelling, villas inspire discourse and encourage future generations to think beyond convention.
Unbuilt villa projects challenge existing architectural conventions, enabling architects to experiment with innovative design solutions and sustainable strategies. They serve as a laboratory for testing new materials and techniques, paving the way for advancements in the field. Architects use these projects to express their vision for the future and critique current practices. Through visual representations, they effectively communicate their ideas to a wider audience, becoming powerful tools for advocacy.
Unbuilt villa projects have also shaped architectural manifestos, calling for radical changes and influencing the direction of the field. Architects usually study these designs to understand thought processes, design principles, and innovative ideas.

Unbuilt villa projects act as a catalyst for new approaches and encourage architects to think beyond conventional boundaries. While public projects by renowned architects like Zahra Hadid, Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind, Norman Foster, Oscar Niemiyar, Aalvar Aalto, Michael Graves, and Steven Holl are widely celebrated for their grandeur and impact on urban landscapes, it is important not to overlook the significance of unbuilt villa or solo house projects. These projects offer a glimpse into the creative minds of architects and contribute Architects such as Le Corbusier with his “Towards an Architecture” manifesto and Frank Lloyd Wright with his “The Natural House” manifesto used unbuilt projects as a means to illustrate their ideas and theories. These manifestos, supported by unbuilt projects, became influential in shaping architectural movements such as modernism and organic architecture. One of the most influential architects in history, Le Corbusier, had several unbuilt projects that showcased his innovative thinking.

Villa Meyer (1925–1926) by Le Corbusier

One notable example is the Villa Meyer (1925–1926). The villa is an unbuilt project which was supposed to be built in Neuilly-sur-Seine, in downtown Paris. Four designs were created for this house by Swiss architect Le Corbusier, but it was never built. This is the first project into which Le Corbusier incorporated “free plan” and “free facade” into his design. These ideas later become two of Corbusier’s famous Five Points of Architecture. Domino Frame is also an outcome of this experimental design, which became the dominant design concept of Corbusier’s later works. Although it was never constructed exactly as planned, its influence can be seen in later works by Le Corbusier.

Mies van der Rohe’s Brick Country House (1923)

Another fascinating unbuilt villa project is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Brick Country House. Designed in 1923, this villa project was intended to be constructed using brick instead of Mies’ signature steel and glass aesthetic. Tthe design showcased his transition from traditional brick construction to his signature steel and glass aesthetic, which would later define modernist architecture and his ability to adapt his style to different contexts. This villa is an early piece that anticipates Mies later works, presenting ideas about architectural forms and construction considered visionary at the time. While the villa was never built, it is often reproduced and helped establish his reputation.

The Goldenberg House was designed by Louis Kahn (1959 )

Louis Kahn’s unbuilt projects also demonstrate his mastery of spatial composition and use of natural light. The Goldenberg House was designed in 1959 by the architect Louis Kahn for Morgan and Mitzi Goldenberg. While the house was never constructed, it was cited by Kahn as holding important lessons for his design process that would be deployed in a number of later structures. These lessons are specifically related to how the outside of the house is irregular while the heart of it, the atrium is a perfect square. While we can see this discovery in the plan drawing for the house, there are likely nuances to its design that are more difficult to understand without being able to visit it in person.

Endless House  by Frederick Kiesler (1958)

Frederick Kiesler, an Austrian-American architect, and artist, was known for his innovative ideas and multidisciplinary approach to design. His “Endless House” project, conceived between 1958 and 1960, aimed to redefine the concept of a home by creating an organic and fluid living environment. Although it remained unbuilt during his lifetime, this visionary project continues to inspire architects and designers today. The “Endless House” was envisioned as a continuous loop with no distinct beginning or end. It rejected the conventional idea of rooms separated by walls and instead proposed a flowing space where different functions seamlessly merged together. Kiesler believed that architecture should adapt to human needs rather than confining individuals within rigid structures. One of the key aspects of the “Endless House” was its emphasis on flexibility. The design allowed for endless possibilities in terms of spatial configurations, enabling inhabitants to adapt their living environment according to their changing needs. This concept challenged the static nature of traditional architecture and encouraged a more dynamic relationship between people and their surroundings. Furthermore, Kiesler’s project incorporated various innovative technologies that were ahead of their time. He envisioned using lightweight materials such as aluminum and fiberglass, which would allow for greater freedom in shaping spaces without compromising structural integrity. Additionally, he proposed integrating advanced mechanical systems for climate control and lighting, ensuring optimal comfort within this unconventional living space.

While the “Endless House” may have remained unbuilt, its significance lies in the ideas it introduced to the architectural discourse. Kiesler’s project questioned the boundaries of what a home could be and challenged architects to think beyond conventional norms. It opened up new possibilities for spatial design, inspiring future generations to explore unconventional forms and push the limits of what is considered possible. This unbuilt project serve as a reminder that architecture is not solely about physical structures but also about ideas and concepts. They encourage architects and designers to think critically, experiment with new approaches, and challenge existing paradigms. By exploring these unrealized designs, we gain a deeper understanding of the creative process and how visionary ideas can shape our built environment.

villa oxnard
Oxnard House by Steven Holl (1988) 

Steven Holl is celebrated for his poetic designs that explore light and space. The unbuilt house from 1988 on a narrow sandlot near the pacific Ocean had a hopelessly pragmatic beginning (designed to be concrete block construction with a two car garage on tiny lot) and it was never built. Today, looking back at the absolute clarity of the idea of “interlocking forms” with the voids from interlocks being space, this concept still elevates architecture to thoughts.” Said Steven Holl 8/24/2022.
Located in Oxnard, California, the Oxnard House was designed to harmonize with its coastal surroundings while pushing the boundaries of traditional villa typology. The project aimed to create a seamless connection between the interior and exterior spaces, blurring the line between nature and built form.
Although the Oxnard House remains unbuilt, its impact on architectural discourse cannot be understated. Holl’s visionary design challenges conventional notions of residential architecture, offering a glimpse into the future of sustainable and harmonious living spaces.

Propuesta Ordos 100 #01. La idea de torre de marfil del arquitecto chileno, Alejandro Aravena.

After Herzog and de Meuron and Ai Wei Wei signed on the invited architects began to take it more seriously. Still a bit skeptical, but with nothing to lose, architects began designing their dream villas that might never be built in the ‘real world.’ When I was there not a lot had been built yet but ground had been broken for Phase I, the first 28 parcels of land. Phase II, the remaining 72 parcels, was scheduled to begin in the spring 09. The Ordos Art Museum has been opened since August 2007 and was exhibiting Mr. Cai Jiang’s contemporary art collection and the architectural models for the Ordos 100 project when I visited. It was quite an amazing and surreal sight to see this gleaming modernist structure all alone jutting out of the ancient and barren earth on a desert plateau in Inner Mongolia, confidently waiting for something we cannot see yet. But as things go in China, in time and with Cai Jiang and partners’ vision for sponsoring commissions for emerging and high profile international and Chinese architects, it will soon be the center of a unique architectural culture for this country and even the world.

Maqueta final producida con la integración de las cien propuestas arquitectónicas desarrolladas y presentadas en la ciudad de Ordos. Foto Fred Scharmen, Archinect

In conclusion, unbuilt projects in architecture hold immense importance in shaping the field’s future trajectory. Villas or solo houses that remain unrealized provide architects with an opportunity for experimentation, innovation, and exploration. They inspire future generations while showcasing the visionary thinking of architects who dared to dream beyond practical limitations. By acknowledging the significance of these unbuilt projects alongside realized ones, we can truly appreciate the rich tapestry that architecture weaves in our world. Villa projects, specifically unbuilt villa projects play a vital role in writing architecture manifestos and shaping architectural contemporary movements. They serve as a testing ground for pioneer architects to bring theory into practice, challenging existing norms and proposing alternative design solutions. They are not just theoretical exercises; they are powerful tools for architectural communication, advocacy, and experimentation. Through these projects, architects can shape the future of architecture and inspire generations to come. They provide architects with creative freedom, challenge societal norms, and contribute to architectural discourse.


This article is prepared for the Villa Award 2021 - 100 Unbuilt projects Book. 


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https://villanews.ir/en/ editorial/unbuilt-matters


Author © 2023 Amirabbas Aboutalebi
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