In the years after creating Broadacre City, Frank Lloyd Wright had a handful of chances to plan real urban environments. Few of these projects were ever built. Two of the biggest, though, provide a window into the changing urban ideas of one of the most influential modern architects.

Crystal City

One of the original sketches of Crystal City. Credit: Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward.
One of the original sketches of Crystal City. Credit: Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward.

Washington D.C. in the mid-20th century was growing quickly, and needed new residential development. Developer Roy Thurman saw a chance to jump on the growing mixed-use trend and build a massive project in one of the last undeveloped tracts of the capital, and brought on Wright to plan it.

Crystal City was about as far from Broadacre as you could get. It was inspired by the Rockefeller Center, which Wright saw as “the entrails of final enormity.” It was to be 21 dense, mixed-use glass and marble buildings, in the midst of a tract of oak trees. It featured a 2,500 room hotel, an underground parking garage, and an 1,100 seat movie theater along with thousands of apartments. Wright claimed that “two walls of every room [would be] made entirely of glass.”

The project fell through when the National Capital Planning Commission, in part because the design was nearly twice the height allowed under the Height of Buildings Act. Although Wright continued to fight for the project for a time, he eventually abandoned it after discovering that Roy Thurman’s finances weren’t as certain as he’d believed .

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The Plan for Greater Baghdad

An original sketch of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Plan for Greater Baghdad. Credit: Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward.

In 1956, at age 89, Wright was commissioned for one of his last projects: a master plan for Baghdad, Iraq. With an influx of oil money, King Faisal II saw the chance to rebuild Baghdad as a modern city. He brought on a cadre of architects – including Le Corbusier – to update parts of the city, and hired Wright to plan the center.

Wright’s plan centered on Pig Island in the Tigris, which he proposed to rename “Edena.” Here he would build an opera house, a garden with fountains of Adam and Eve, museums for both historic sculpture and modern art, and a monument to the eighth-century caliph Haroun al-Rashid. A university campus was planned across the river, and all of these elements formed a constellation of circles and arcs, echoing the historic circular design of Baghdad.

Wright was inspired by his childhood love of One Thousand and One Nights and an appreciation for the historic architecture of the region. Ziggurats for parking were scattered throughout the plan, and the opera house was topped with a sculpture of Aladdin and his lamp.

Unfortunately, King Faisal II was assassinated in 1958 and the plans were shelved. Later administrations did not believe that the beautiful designs met the needs of the people in Baghdad. This design does, however, reveal an older Wright more willing to compromise Broadacre City with the realities of modern urbanity.

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