Having finally visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park, Illinois houses last winter, the Hollyhock and Ennis houses in Los Angeles and Taliesin in Wisconsin last year, I recently took one more fresh tour, the Insights tour, through his ingenious Taliesin West. Wright’s winter camp is located in Scottsdale, Arizona, though the docent pointed out that he probably wouldn’t have put it there today had he known what the local government would do.
What they did was mar the landscape he had worked so diligently to study, examine, research, consider, develop and integrate into his unique vision for the art of living he called modern architecture.
Where Wright and his fellowship of apprentices had built a home, lab and place in sloping stone walls, redwood beams and sand to align with the foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, the government has since made several changes including above-ground utility poles and other decisions he would have considered transgressions against art, nature and man. But then the docent on my recent tour, a student whose father is an architect who studied with Wright, pointed out that Wright thought traffic lights were also against man’s nature, too.
Wright created great American treasures from the Johnson Wax Building in Racine, Wisconsin, and an iconic Rodeo Drive building in Beverly Hills to New York’s Guggenheim Museum and Fallingwater in western Pennsylvania. He had discovered Arizona in 1927, when he was contracted to design the Arizona Biltmore. Wright moved to the Grand Canyon State, staying each winter season, until he died in 1959.
He wrote about his design for Taliesin West:
I was struck by the beauty of the desert, by the dry, clear sun-drenched, air, by the stark geometry of the mountains, the entire region was an inspiration in strong contrast to the lush, pastoral landscape of my native Wisconsin. And out of that experience, a revelation is what I guess you might call it, came the design for these buildings. The design sprang out of itself, with no precedent and nothing following it.”
Pools, terraces, icicles, dragons, towers, gardens, theaters and living quarters – where I spotted his copy of Animal Farm by George Orwell – are masterfully forged into an angled camp that adheres to his philosophy that buildings be bathed in warm, natural light. Refusing to make it on a strict north-south axis, he once explained to an archivist that tilting the design off the direct compass points sunlight and shade throughout Taliesin West’s rooms and views all year long. Looking toward the Camelback Mountains and over Paradise Valley, he found in this land the wonders of what was once an ocean floor, accentuating unusual Cholla and Staghorn cactus for their resemblance to strange corals.
As Wright wrote in 1937:
We must believe architecture to be the living spirit
that made these buildings what they were.
It is a spirit by and for man,
a spirit of time and place.
And we must perceive architecture,
if we are to understand it at all,
to be a spirit of the spirit of man
that will live as long as man lives…
These buildings were wrested
by his tireless energy from the earth
and erected in the eye of the sun.
It was originally the conscious creation,
out of man himself, of a higher self.
His building, in order to be architecture,
was the true spirit of himself made manifest…
Each place at Taliesin West, from the sculpture garden to the cabaret, dining room – even the parking lot – bears the mark of Frank Lloyd Wright and must be seen to be fully experienced and appreciated. My pictures are just that. Some photography is forbidden due to copyright issues. There is much to enjoy and explore at Taliesin West. This was my second visit. Each time, I gain something of value. I plan to visit again. Like almost everything in the desert and the American West, it offers strange beauty, grand vistas of earth and sky and it brings out the best in man.
Tours currently range in time from 90 minutes to three hours, and from $24 to $75, with some requiring reservations in advance and most available for booking on site. Tour availability, hours, seasonal and adult/child/handicapped access issues are all addressed on the Web site: FrankLloydWright.org
Accredited architectural undergraduate and master’s degrees are also available through studies at Taliesin West. Tuition is $30,000 for each program. Competition for admission is strong, though applicants with advanced critical thinking and graphic arts skills are encouraged to apply for admission. The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, divided into two season sessions at Taliesin West (October through May) and Taliesin (May through October), is a 12-month calendared, year-round program which requires residency on the campus. For more information, call the director of admissions at (480) 627-5345 or visit Taliesin.edu.