It might've been comedian Steven Wright who asked: Why do we call them buildings; shouldn't they be called builts?
In the world of architecture, perhaps the most famous unbuilt of all may be that of Moravian born Austrio-Hungarian architect Adolf Loos. Loos was an early zealot for modernism and, as was made clear in his famous essay Ornament and Crime, a militant decorative reactionary. Said he:
The evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornament from objects of everyday use.
Loos also created what he called the Raumplan which suggested that houses shouldn't be divided into rooms separated by walls. Instead, they should flow from a more continuous living space: Clearly, an idea whose time has come.
In 1928 he completed a design for a proposed Xanadu-styled dwelling for legendary American ex-pat singer, dancer, actress, and apparent enchantress, Josephine Baker.
Exactly how and why the design came about has long been the subject of speculation. She may've commissioned Loos for the design. Or not.
Here's a model of the legendary building:
And the tabloid version: At the winsome age of 19, Josephine Baker arrived in Paris to find work as singer and dancer. She quickly became an overnight sensation. This success allowed her into the most cultured circles of the Parisian fabulous. It'd be here that Loos encountered her and, like many others, was immediately smitten. Adopting her as his muse, he designed a grandiloquent residence unbeknownst to La Bakaire. He presented his vision of Chez Baker to her in 1928. (She would've been 22 at the time.) How in her youth, even as a sensation, she'd be able to afford a palace clad in black and white marble, split into three levels with spiraling staircases, a cylindrical tower, and an interior second floor pool is a mystery. (See floor plans here.) Baker's response to either the design or designer is unknown.
Why Loos would be enthralled with La Bakaire isn't hard to imagine: Leaving New York behind as "the highest-paid chorus girl in vaudville," her dances and costumes in the Folies Bergères and other productions were famously provocative. She was beautiful, exotic, and a fluent jazz dancer at a time when jazz was the vanguard. But even this pales to her experience during the war in the French Resistance. She also spoke at the podium before Martin Luther King gave his I Have a Dream speech. (She was offered a leading role in the post-King civil rights movement: She turned it down.) As the victim of much racism in America and abroad (Hitler was not a fan) she'd adopt a dozen children from around the world, her so-called Rainbow Tribe, to make a point on diversity and compatibility. In his later years Loos would boast that Baker had taught him the Charleston.
But, clearly, there was more to Adolf Loos than leery fan-boy infatuation. His mix of austere classicism with modernist streamlining would meet with success.
Above, Villa Karma: His collaboration with architect Hugo Ehrlich is considered an early example of the modern house (Loos was the primary designer 1904-1906; Ehrlich would finish it). Loos's personal life was not nearly as balanced and harmonious as his professional one, particularly his health. (He was diagnosed with cancer early in his career.) Below; The Villa as seen on the inside.
The Villa Müller, below*: Due to Loos's failing health, the architect Karel Lhota was hired to help with the design. The client himself was a successful concrete contractor who had been working on some innovative uses of reinforced concrete which became part of the building's design. The building itself would have a colorful history of its own. (Thank you Veronica G. for the heads up!)
This sensibility, especially when applied to furnishings, would prove prescient: Below, a timeless chandelier from 1911 and a tumbler set from 1931.
Another renowned Loos unbuilt: This Doric column-styled tower was a proposal for the Chicago Tribune from 1922. Created for an architectural competition that would lure a gallery of marquee names including Walter Gropius, Adolf Meyer, and Eliel Saarinen (father of Eero). Alas, none of them would prevail; the winning entry, which one contemporary critic said would set back architecture 50 years, has since been described as a "fruity Gothic pile."
Feeling his pain for the decorative in the everyday object, an homage to the maestro from artist Laurent Craste: Petite étude pour «Adolf Loos’s wet dream».