Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the biggest names in architecture. I had only seen pictures of his marvels, but when I was in Phoenix my Mom and I went to his winter residence (and school) – Taliesin West in Scottsdale, AZ. Of course he doesn’t live there anymore, Wright died in 1959, but it continues today as the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, an accredited school. It was built and maintained entirely by Wright and his apprentices, making it the most personal of his creations.
Taliesin is in Spring Green, WI and was his summer residence. He built it for his lover Mamah Borthwick, in part to shield her from aggressive reporters and the negative public sentiment surrounding their non-married status. Both had left their spouses and children in order to live together and were the subject of relentless public censure. In 1914, while Wright was working in Chicago a male servant hired from Barbados set fire and murdered seven people with an axe. One of those being Mamah and her two children. I could continue on but this post is not about Taliesin, it’s about Taliesin West.
With everything that Frank Lloyd Wright designed, he believed in designing structures that were in harmony with humanity and its environment, a philosophy he called organic architecture. Not to overtake but to become one with it. I love this idea.
Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship (his apprentices) began to “trek” to Arizona each winter in 1933. In 1937 Wright purchased the plot of desert land that would soon become Taliesin West. He paid $3.50 an acre on a southern slope of the McDowell Range, believing this to be the perfect spot to build: a residence, a business, and a place to learn.
He wanted Taliesin West to connect with the desert, the structure’s walls are made of local desert rocks, stacked within wood forms and filled with concrete. Natural light was used as much as possible with windows but no glass, only an open space for birds to fly through and sunlight to beam its rays throughout the rooms. Light beige canvas was used for the roofing and could be rolled up or down depending on the day.
For Wright everything he did was intentional. He was fascinated with the petroglyphs found on the Taliesin West property, the clasped hands of the American Indian symbol of friendship. This is often referred to as the running arrow; however, Mr. Wright preferred to call it the whirling arrow. Found in many places around the property but seen here on a rock and near the water fountain at Taliesin West.
Wright enjoyed entertaining. Almost every Saturday he would invite people over for cocktails, dinner, maybe a movie or a dance production. They would start in the Garden Room, one of the most popular rooms at Taliesin West. Here you have a long bench but also Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous butterfly chairs.
Every year upon his return to Taliesin West he would walk around with making changes and shouting orders to his apprentices. Taliesin West was a continuing project for Wright, always changing things with new ideas and improving the space with different concepts. Throughout the years he added to the dining room and one brilliant addition was the cabaret theatre with six-sides in an irregular hexagonal shape, it provides its occupants a “95% acoustic perfection”. Someone in the very back can hear even the slightest whisper from the stage.
And speaking of the stage, his apprentices would learn more than just architecture. The Taliesin Fellowship were taught to learn all aspects of life, integrating not only architecture and construction, but also farming, gardening, and cooking, the study of nature, art, music, and dance. He would have parties almost every Saturday and half of his apprentices would cook and the other half would serve and clean up. Or if he wanted a special dance or music set for his guests, the apprentices would learn the dance or the song and perform.
I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Taliesin West and would recommend it to anyone, especially if you love architecture. There are many different types of tours, we did the Insight Tour which lasted about an hour and a half. Ticket prices are $34 for advanced purchase but if you are an Arizona resident you get 50% off, so don’t forget to mention that if you are! Enjoy and I would love to hear about your favorites of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Taliesin West. 12621 N Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd, Scottsdale, AZ. 480.627.5378