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Never Before Seen Look at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unbuilt Arizona Capitol “Oasis”

Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation | Nov 20, 2020

Of all Frank Lloyd Wright’s unbuilt designs, a snub from Wright’s adopted home state of 25 years for its Capitol building still reverberates with this resident’s commentary: “What could be more ridiculous than for Arizona to go on record before the world and our own descendants as having rejected Frank Lloyd Wright as an architect?” Find out why Arizona never got its Capitol from America’s most famous architect.

One of Frank Lloyd Wright’s greatest buildings may be one that he never built—the Arizona State Capitol, an unbuilt oasis of democracy in the Sonoran Desert.

In the forthcoming issue of The Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly, the hard-copy magazine exclusively for Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation members, the controversy surrounding this unbuilt masterpiece is explored. As a visual treat, the Foundation enlisted Spanish architect David Romero, who uses advanced techniques of 3D representation, to turn Wright’s designs into striking “photorealistic” renderings, images that are so highly detailed they appear to be contemporary photography. Combined with Arizona-based journalist Rebecca Rhoades’ reporting on the project, the Quarterly magazine tells the captivating story of the Arizona Capitol that never came to be. Learn a little about the project below, and then read the full, enthralling story by becoming a member to receive the forthcoming issue.

It was April 1957 and the entire city of Phoenix was embroiled in a battle over the future design of the State Capitol. At the center of the dispute was Wright himself, whose unsolicited proposal dominated conversation and media coverage and divided neighbors and family members for much of the year. For the architect, it was a gift to the people of his adopted home state, but following months of public contention, his visionary plans never made it off the drawing board.

State officials denounced the design, calling it “too ornate” and “too expensive,” even though its estimated cost was $5 million, $3 million less than the originally proposed skyscraper. One legislator went so far as to say that the Oasis looked like an “oriental whorehouse.”

Ultimately Wright lost his bid and America’s most famous architect went on to design more for his adopted winter home in Arizona, including the Grady Gammage Auditorium on the Arizona State University campus. In an ironic twist, the performance hall, which was constructed posthumously following Wright’s death in 1959, now attracts more visitors than the Capitol.

Photorealistic renderings of Oasis, Frank Lloyd Wright’s design for the Arizona State Capitol by David Romero

The upcoming issue of the magazine, a benefit to members of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation titled Unbuilt Frank Lloyd Wright: For the Benefit of the People shares more on the controversial Capitol design, along with the stories behind and never before seen “photorealistic” renderings of two more Wright designs for public use, The Huntington Hartford Play Resort & Sports Club and the Rosenwald School.

photorealistic rendering of Wright's building for Huntington Hartford

Photorealistic rendering of The Huntington Hartford Play Resort & Sports Club by David Romero

To learn more about this topic and to get the Unbuilt Frank Lloyd Wright: For the Benefit of the People Quarterly issue along with a subscription to future issues, become a Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation member today. As a member of the Foundation, you become an integral part in supporting our mission to inspire people to discover and embrace an architecture for better living through meaningful connections to nature, the arts, and each other.