For all the local architectural buffs out there, this week’s column is for you.
While in Arizona last week, I had the absolute pleasure of booking a tour through one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpieces: Taliesin West.
Nestled quite perfectly in the northern desert foothills of the McDowell Mountain Range just east of Scottsdale, the massive structure served as a personal winter home and architectural campus for Wright, his family, and scores of apprentices and students over several decades.
Wright began building this living, breathing work of ever-changing art in 1937, and didn’t halt the scores of revisions he continually made to the dwelling until his death in 1959. Never intended to be a ‘finished’ dwelling, Taliesin West served as a tangible canvas for the many young architects that came to study under Wright.
Beginning with only a handful of loyal apprentices, and a collection of fairly primitive tools (considered so by modern day standards), Wright and his team began clearing out the barren desert landscape, foot by foot, in order to set the foundation for the landmark structure.
A master of compression and release architecture, Wright’s play of tension in space is overwhelmingly evident throughout the complex: foyers and entry ways, not much larger than a typical modern-day bathroom, create enveloping points of reference as you move throughout the structure into large, open-air, and almost cavernous common spaces.
A series of areas connected through terraces, gardens, and pools, the dwelling employs low level, horizontal planes that keep the house and studio close to the ground to insure effective natural ventilation, protection, and shade from the intense desert sun.
After Wright’s passing, all revisions and new works to the premise ceased, and the dwelling was preserved to showcase the living and working environments exactly as he had left them.
Our tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable and — knowing many of Wright’s later acquaintances personally — was able to share tidbits and very private pieces of history, as only an insider could, into Wright’s remarkable world.
Portions of the house were sectioned off from the public because — as we came to find out mid-tour — a handful of elderly apprentices and artists in residence still lived there!
And there we were, experiencing first-hand the ingenuity of one of the century’s greatest architectural masters, isolated by the beauty of the Sonoran Desert backdrop.
Passing through his private chambers, theatre rooms, personal office, and drafting room, it was such a treat to step into the main living room you see featured in so many history of architecture textbooks.
Nearly everything within the house remains at it was more than 50 years ago, and being able to see, sit on, and touch some of his most recognizable furniture throughout the house was — to me — such a treat.
"Arizona needs its own architecture … Arizona’s long, low, sweeping lines, up-tilting planes. Surface patterned after such abstraction in line and colour as one finds ‘realism’ in the patterns of the rattlesnake, the Gila monster, the chameleon, and the saguaro, cholla or staghorn — or is it the other way around — are inspiration enough." ~ Frank Lloyd Wright