On your day in Scottsdale, be sure to make time to visit Taliesin West, architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s personal winter home, architectural campus, and studio.
More than a must-see for architectural aficionados, Taliesin West is a tranquil oasis that offers visitors an opportunity to slow down and experience. Located just northeast of downtown Scottsdale, the National Historic Landmark is the main campus of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture and houses the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. It is where Wright studied, taught, and applied visionary innovations from 1937 until his demise in 1959 at the age of 92.
From 1937 to 1941 when much of the original construction took place, Wright, who favored using readily available materials opposed to those transported to the site, built the structure’s walls from native desert rocks stacked within wood forms and filled with concrete. The flat surfaces of the rocks were placed facing outward and large boulders filled the interior space to conserve concrete.
You can feel the spirit of Wright throughout the campus as his personal touch is inescapable. In addition to the primary structures, he designed all of the furniture and decorations with the majority being built by apprentices who resided on the campus in tents and who studied and worked under the strict tutelage of the master.
Rising invitingly from the beautiful Sonoran desert in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains, Taliesin West, named after Wright’s summer home, Taliesin, in Spring Green, Wisconsin, is a testament to Wright’s game-changing ability to integrate indoor and outdoor spaces.
Wright, who utilized native materials in design and construction, incorporated natural ambient light for all interior illumination through translucent covered skylights, generous windows and site orientation. The result is calming and warm, with each room bathed in the soft natural light that Wright desired.
Taking inspiration from the long, low, sweeping lines and up-tilting planes of desert landscape, as well as the surface quality and color palette of its richly patterned wildlife, Wright fashioned a masterpiece that must be experienced to truly appreciate.
Starting in 1933, Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship would travel to Arizona each winter for the warmer climate. Several years later, after paying a mere $3.50 an acre, he purchased a 500-acre plot of desert land on a southern slope of the McDowell Range overlooking Paradise Valley outside Scottsdale. Wright believed this to be the perfect spot for his beloved Taliesin West; a place of residence, a place of business and a place to learn.
Upon every return after a summer in Wisconsin, Wright would grab a hammer and immediately make his way through the Taliesin West complex to make improvements or expand the facilities. Throughout the years, he extended the dining room and added the cabaret theatre, music pavilion, and numerous other rooms.
The site offers a broad range of public tours every day, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, from 9 am to 4pm. Tours range from one to three hours long. Taliesin West is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the months of July and August.
By: Kelly Taggart & Greg Root
Photos: Andrew Pielage and The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), Allen Carrsaco