Behind all those broadsheet “architecture in the Noughties” features there was an alternative decade, visible
in a mammoth volume published in 2009 by Thames & Hudson. Unbuilt Masterworks of the 21st Century is a compendium of schemes that never made it – a clutch of vetoed World Trade Centers, megaprojects too ambitious even for China and the UAE, competition losers, political alsorans and the financially stillborn. But is this menagerie of failures miserable? Hell no. Bumptious confidence bounces off every page.
Even though they never came to trouble the surface of the planet, the projects are still “masterworks”
– it says so right on the cover. Actually breaking ground is beside the point now that digital technology has advanced to the present state of the art. Authenticity is overrated in a digital decade, where we can fight wars over non-existent weapons and billions of pounds can dematerialise in minutes.
That said, there’s a pleasing amount of non-digital presentation in Unbuilt Masterworks, with plenty of models and drawings, and even watercolours and charcoal. But the computer-generated stuff is clearly the main event. It’s all so consciously seductive, winking at you like soft porn from page after page. The buildings are literally perfect, even the dogs. Many have these unique seamless surfaces with an unearthly, reflective, silken un-texture, pierced by lens flare from a hot sun in clear skies.
Others are pristine Apple Mac white or have the translucence of rare jellyfish. Building them would ruin them.
Unbuilt Masterworks of the 21st Century: Inspirational Architecture for the Digital Age, by Will Jones, Thames & Hudson