Some museums just aren’t meant to be. For reasons of being too complicated, expensive, or just too out there to exist, many architects’ plans for museums have been unrealized. With the oozing design of the proposed re-imagining of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art threatened by its encroaching on the La Brea tar pits, will it become another one of these thwarted dreams? Time will tell, but here are some museums whose vision has faded.
First, the above tricked out Guggenheim is not just another proposed epic light installation to show up Turrell, this was actually one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s proposals for the museum, complete with a pink paint job. He also submitted ideas involving polygonal sharp edges on the spiral adorned with blue, and an inverse spiral that was smaller on top, but this design seems like where the party’s at.
While the White House is fairly off-limits aside from home tours, and now even those are on hiatus, there was a plan in 1889 to include a museum and botanical garden in an expansion. The brainchild of first lady Caroline Scott Harrison, the plan by architect Frederick D. Owen had stately statue wings that connected to art galleries, as well as spaces for official functions.
Even the National Mall of Washington, DC, could have looked startlingly different. With this design by architect Franklin Webster Smith for the National Galleries of Art and History, a palatial grid of columns and courtyards replaces the expanse of green, with plenty of triumphal arches fitting for a capital that modeled itself on the classical.
The Brooklyn Museum is hardly a tiny space, but it’s only a sixth of what it was planned to be. The original design by McKim Mead & White, created in 1893 while they were doing similarly ambitious things for the Chicago World’s Fair, was going to have two and a half million square feet with science, art, and natural history exhibitions. Funds for what would have been the world’s largest museum ended up being too tight and it was reduced down to its current size.
Over in London, here is a plan for an expansion on the National Gallery that was almost realized until it faced some royal criticism. The plan by Ahrends, Burton, and Koralek was approved in 1982 with a wildly modern curve and windows like completed tetris screens. However, in an 1984 speech at the Royal Institute of British Architects, Prince Charles called it a “monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend,” and permission for its building in Trafalgar Square was never approved.
Futuristic architecture is always a tough sell, or sometimes just a little ahead of its time. Even now, Antoni Gaudí’s 1908 design for the Hotel Attraction skyscraper would stand out like a space ship in the New York City skyline. The over 1,000-foot-tall hotel adorned with tile, glass, and alabaster would include an exhibition hall soaring up 375 feet, as well as stained glass-lined galleries with monolithic statues of every American president and pedestals for more. It was much too expense to be built, but recently the designs were entered as part of the World Trade Center memorial design competition by Paul Laffoley, as if it had been built it would have stood almost exactly where the Twin Towers once were.
Yet it’s not always futurism that fails, as Peter Blake’s incredibly minimal 1949 Ideal Museum for the art of Jackson Pollock remained an idealized dream. Constructed of glass and meant to meld with the landscape around it, the Ideal Museum took as inspiration Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s “Museum for a Small City” (also unbuilt), that aimed to make architecture invisible. However, the Ideal Museum did eventually get constructed in a way, on Second Life.
As a more modern close-but-not-realized museum, the Museum of Tolerance designed by Frank Gehry, a counterpoint to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, was first slowed down by the discovery of a Muslim cemetery, and then withdrawn entirely. Gehry’s similarly wild plans for Corcoran Gallery of Art were also dashed.
While Renzo Piano’s sleek design for the new Whitney Museum is underway, the existing Marcel Breuer building could have had a much bolder successor. The concrete lattice proposed by Axis Mundi firm that looks something like a Star Wars sandcrawler that rolled up to the High Line, also has an interior garden decorated with Jeff Koons’ balloon animals (perhaps his 2014 retrospective), would likely have made a stronger, more dystopic statement.
The Axis Mundi Whitney Museum would likely enjoy the company of this unbuilt, angular proposal for the New Acropolis Museum by Daniel Libeskind. In the end, the museum went for something less stabby and severe.
This museum may actually still have a chance. The National Museum of the American People, proposed for Washington, DC, through a 2011 resolution, would aim to tell the story of the different cultural groups that make up the United States. However, the striking, waved buildings have yet to find a place.
Yet this museum will likely never get completed, as it would have been the most expensive of the Guggenheim’s museums. Guggenheim Guadalajara, designed by Enrique Norten with 24 stories on a tree-covered hill, was canceled in 2009.
And finally, for the most whimsical, here’s mid-century modernist Bruce Goff‘s design for the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, which imagines the cowpoke’s museum as a pile of horseshoes, complete with a central stake. Yet while there’s likely no way it will ever be built, thanks to Skyline Ink Animation Studio, you can see it in digital 3D (with some Gustav Holst for an epic soundtrack):