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Take a virtual tour of Oscar Niemeyer’s unbuilt California dream house

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Beautiful Brazilian design transposed to Southern California

Oscar Niemeyer’s unbuilt Burton G. Tremaine, Sr
A model of Oscar Niemeyer’s unbuilt Burton G. Tremaine, Sr. Home in Santa Barbara, California
By Rolando Figueiredo via Archilogic

Oscar Niemeyer, a Pritzker winner whose curved oeuvre helped define modernism, will always be associated with his homeland of Brazil. But had this home, created for a private client in Santa Barbara in 1947, been realized, he may have also been part of the revolution in residential architecture that made California an epicenter of midcentury design.

Niemeyer was propositioned by art collecting power couple Burton G. Tremaine, Sr. and Emily Hall Tremaine, prolific supporters of modernism who eventually owned a treasury of 20th century work from the likes of Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, Warhol, de Kooning, and Lichtenstein. Their interests also carried over to architecture. They’d hired both Philip Johnson and Frank Lloyd Wright to draw up sketches for potential projects.

Early admirers of Niemeyer’s work, the couple asked him to design a home on an oceanside lot in Montecito. While Niemeyer was never able to visit, since his Communist Party membership complicated U.S. travel, he did pair up with a landscape architect and frequent collaborator Roberto Burle Marx to create sketches and a grand vision for the Tremaines.

The architect envisioned a two-story residence divided between a rectangular upper floor, positioned to capture the Pacific breeze and offer panoramic views from the master suite and guest room, and a curvaceous lower level for entertaining and socializing. A writer at the time called it a synthesis of Le Corbusier’s formalism and the free-form fantasy of Miro and Arp. Fantasy was certainly a selling point: wrapped around a pool, the lower level featured a number of indoor-outdoor spaces, including a bar and music area. Niemeyer even illustrated his plans with sketches of bikini-clad women.

While Niemeyer’s vision of a gorgeous home and permanent party was enticing, the eventual cost forced the couple to abandon the design. Niemeyer would turn back towards other projects, most importantly the United Nations building, and the Tremaines would move ahead with a Richard Neutra-designed home in 1948.

While unrealized, the project still captured the imagination of many at the time. The plans became part of a 1949 MoMA exhibition curated by Philip Johnson, and the Tremaines donated the sketches to the institution’s permanent collection a few years later.

Unbuilt Niemeyer home in Santa Barbara By Rolando Figueiredo via Archilogic
Unbuilt Oscar Niemeyer home in Santa Barbara By Rolando Figueiredo via Archilogic

This virtual tour was created by Archilogic, a firm that specializes in creating 3D models for architecture and real estate, and allows users to upload floorplans and create their own virtual tours. Check out their recreation of another Niemeyer home in Israel, as well as tours of unbuilt Frank Lloyd Wright projects, including the Ralph Jester House and the Dr. Hugh Pratt Home. Archilogic also released spaces.archilogic.com, which allows users to create their own virtual tours by signing up here.

Unbuilt Oscar Niemeyer home in Santa Barbara By Rolando Figueiredo via Archilogic