“The long lines of colorful, windswept terrain, the ineffable dotted line, the richly textured plain, great striated, stratified masses lying noble and quiet or rising with majesty above the vegetation of the desert floor; nature-masonry is piled up into ranges of mountains that seem to utter a form-language of their own”
–Frank Lloyd Wright
On a perfect spring day, 23 degree celsius out with clear blue skies and a cool breeze, our tour guide romay took us around the desert masterpiece that is taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was after noon; The sky was directly above us and the light passing through the structure cast varying geometric shadows, the very forms the great american architect is known for. With her thick german accent, romay explained to us that in the early 1930s at 70 years old, Wright, together with his wife Oglivana and his fellowship students, came to the area, fleeing from the cold weather of Wisconsin where his other home taliesin i was located. in more than 600 acres of land, taliesin, which literally means shining brow, sprung from the land with its structure cascading seamlessly into the natural landscape of the stunning sonoran desert.
Its sheer brilliance resides on the manipulation of spaces. Wright’s success over his tireless goal of the “destruction of the box” is best exemplified in taliesen’s open free-flowing spaces that commune with nature and connects the different areas. He was one of the
first proponents of the open architectural plan, which some viewed as his articulation of the ideals of america: “freedom, democracy and wide open spaces” he had hoped to see translated in his architecture.
Ahead of its time, the home and also the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture’s west campus, was such a departure from the Victorian style, in a way that could only be described in his own words as “the elimination of the insignificant.” He coined it “Organic Architecture,” raw and provocative for its time, using only the materials indigenous to the area—in this case, the desert. they called the main method they used “desert Masonry” wherein concrete was poured into a group of large boulders to make the walls. Wright admired the texture and colors of the exposed flat sides of the stone, and the fellowship discovered a smart and rather crude method of keeping the poured concrete from covering the flat surfaces. they interspersed round protruding stones in between the slabs and called it the “goose effect.”
Built in the later years of his life, taliesen West was true to Wright’s signature form. a nod to the prairie style he propelled, design elements such as the multi-level lowered roof, which is parallel to the horizontal line of the earth and the horizon, and a hidden entrance come to life. Uniquely, there were no straight 90-degree walls, instead having the walls built at a slanting 15-degree angle. the office, which is the first room that one passes from the side, is given a translucence of space thanks to the canvas-lined ceiling. ingeniously thought of by Wright, it provides ample lighting without the glare and shadows. glass windows were also placed high, above eye level, to let light in without distracting the occupants in the room. Wright was a modestly tall man at 5’7”, so he created small doors for most of his interiors. He felt that for a dramatic revelation, which became a hallmark of his work, one should move from a small hallway or opening to a large space.
Moving to the frontage is the main area called the ship is the prow, the focal point of the property. Within the prow is the garden, which Wright dubbed as “the tame desert,” with flora native to arizona, and the triangular pool. Juxtaposed to the desert pageantry is a significant piece of asian art that Wright purchased from a san francisco flea market, which dates back to the ching dynasty. He had an affinity for asian art, which is evident in the many pieces that dot taliesin West like the dragon, the sprites and a Buddha, to name a few. this love affair extended beyond his collection and in fact became a source of income, when he had a brief stint as an art dealer of Japanese prints when he hit hard times.
From the garden room, the panorama is picturesque and Wright fought hard to keep the view, which, with the exception of a few power lines, is left unobstructed. He expanded the interior space with a vaulted ceiling, since he detested attics. The garden room connects the adjoining rooms, which includes Wright’s private quarters. All for architectural harmony, Wright designed geometric furniture and in taliesin West, hexagonal furniture sits in almost every room. He had developed this geometric mastery from playing with froebel blocks his mother had given him as a child.
Outside, a lap pool crosses under the walkway that leads to the storage room, which houses the sketches of the fellowship students. The fellowship dining area leads to the drafting room, which functions to this day for the students and kept private. Many of the 1,140 historic Wright commissions were designed in 2000 square feet of workspace, including the guggenheim Museum in new york. In the halls outside, the light passing through the trellis create an interesting geometric pattern on the floor, which seems to move as you walk by. An outdoor area holds rows of bronze sculptures by Heloise crista, who lives within the grounds. As a performance artist, her work shows movement and the human form, a fitting visual distraction before you enter the Music pavilion next door. Seasonal performances are held in this sunken indoor music hall, which was initially built like a barn. Now, a miniature model can be found of a complex that Wright designed initially for Marilyn Monroe, though she rejected it, that was picked up decades later by a UAE company for Doha.
Being a music lover, Wright also designed the cabaret theater just a few steps away. The hexagon walls have no straight angles, and a wooden stage has a built-in amplifier that offers perfect acoustics without echoes. His granddaughter anne Baxter, the Hollywood movie actress, would update him on the latest films and he would have screenings at the cabaret theater, with a fancy dinner and everyone dressing to the nines.
Then and now, Taliesin West comes alive with stories told and history made within its walls. Last year in 2013, taliesin West celebrated its 75th year, and together with Big green Zero and first solar, both industry leaders in renewable energy, became a “net zero” energy consumer.
“We are confident the integration of clean solar power into taliesen West will help advance the legacy of frank Lloyd,” says Jim Lamon, first solar senior Vp of engineering. With such an important place in architecture and such a respectful stance it has to the land it is on, taliesen West continues to shine as a design oasis in the sonoran desert.
by Katsy Borromeo