In 1936 San Francisco draftsman A.G. Rizzoli (1896-1981) began producing large pen-and-ink renderings of utopian architectural designs. Such utopian images are found throughout the history of visionary architecture, but Rizzoli’s elaborate buildings were unusual in that most were symbolic representations or “transfigurations” of people he knew, intended to glorify a heavenly world of his own creation. They were meant to symbolize an actual metamorphosis of the person following death, as well as an architectural personification of their essential attributes.
Rizzoli’s buildings were confident illustrations of his own creed about beauty, stature, and importance, but also of his fervent belief that these were God-given ideals: they represented the kind of buildings that should grace paradise. Exact standards of proportion defined by what the Beaux-Arts school determined were universally correct “laws” of harmony, symmetry, and balance infused his works. Nevertheless, his meticulously crafted drawings for this rapidly developing imaginary world juxtaposed Beaux-Arts architectural idioms with eclectic motifs of Roman, Renaissance, Baroque, Art Deco, and Art Nouveau styles. Added to this mixture were spectacular lighting displays reminiscent of a Hollywood premiere as well as more populist elements of commercial advertising suggestive of P.T. Barnum. This fusion of styles was an array not many could have successfully presented without parody, but this would have been unthinkable to him, given his self-assigned title of “earthly architectural assistant and transcriber” to God. Proud of the grand design of his work, Rizzoli described it as an “Expeau of Magnitude, Magnificence and Manifestation.” Rizzoli’s creations are an ambitious mixture of excessive ornamentation with an almost fanatic, formal regard for the classicism and precision of the architectural line.
–Adapted from “Divine Design Delights: The Life and Works of A.G. Rizzoli,” in Jo Farb Hernandez, John Beardsley, and Roger Cardinal, A.G. Rizzoli: Architect of Magnificent Visions. (New York: Harry N. Abrams and San Diego Museum of Art, 1997).