By Lindsay Benkel
Published October 12, 2009 11:39 AM PST
Whether you are just visiting or you live in the Phoenix metro area, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West is a sight that cannot be missed. Revered as one of Wright’s greatest accomplishments, Taliesin West consists of a number of buildings that make up a compound built and designed by Wright himself (with some help of course from his assistants). To this day, it remains nestled at the foot of the mountains in North Scottsdale on 500 square acres of pristine desert landscape, which is what initially captivated Wright when he first visited the growing Phoenix area.
His appreciation for the landscape is evident in the building, from the walls made of desert rock and sand, to the triangular roofs that mimic the mountains towering behind them. This compound is truly a testament to his many innovations in architecture as well as homage to the desert. You can witness first hand his famous recessed lighting fixtures and his “window walls” which seamlessly join the rooms to the landscape.
Something that caught my eye personally was the amazing acoustics in his dinner theater. The theater itself is built on an already existing mountain slope and, despite being recessed into the ground, is 95% acoustically perfect. The irregular hexagon shape has eliminated the echo and has turned this cave like room into a functioning theater. On top to the acoustics, the theater features tables and chairs designed by Wright specifically for the dinner theater space as well as his signature red (which was his favorite color) present throughout the upholstery and the carpeting.
You also cannot help but stand in awe of the rock walls after you find out how they were formed. Since Wright had very little money after moving out to Arizona, he used the materials around him to build his home. The walls are made of desert rock and sand, both found on the property that were placed and poured into a wooden mold and then set to dry. His lack of finance also led to another great innovation in architecture, the canvas roofing. Initially put in because it was one of the cheapest materials available, it turned out that light throughcanvas provides lighting without shadow, which is perfect for drafting. Frank Lloyd Wright has truly earned his place as an economical and innovative architect with Taliesin West.
Originally constructed as a place for him and his students to work during the winter in Wisconsin (the location of the original Taliesin), Taliesin West is still functioning as a residence as well as an exclusive architectural school. Since the buildings are still in use, it is required that you take a tour in order to explore the grounds. A number of different tours are available everyday from 9am to 4pm and range in price from $18 to $60 for an adult, $7 to $14 for children (student, senior, and military discounts also available). Each tour includes a guided walk through Wright’s three theaters and a look at the famous view that drew him to the desert in the first place. Also, each tour is guided by a knowledgeable representative from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation that will be more than happy to answer any question you may have about the property or Mr. Wright.
For an extra fee, other tours include the living quarters and other more intimate spaces. The Taliesin West also offers a desert walk daily at 11:15am and a tour of his student’s “desert shelter” projects that are strung throughout the property at 1:15pm. On top of the tours of the compound, the architecture school at Taliesin West offers a lecture series that is open to the public once the school year begins in mid-October and a summer program for young architects. More information is available on the website (www.franklloydwright.org).