Friday, July 6, 2018

Photo Essay: A Desert Trek to Frank Lloyd Wright's Winter Home and Office

For a self-trained architect, Frank Lloyd Wright had quite a racket going.



In 1931, he'd established Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin to afford budding architects to do exactly what he did—"learn by doing."



After all, the best way to learn how to build a house is to start trying to build one.



But since neither Wright nor his students (or, "apprentices," as he called them) wanted to study anything as far north as the 43rd parallel during winter, Wright set his sights on Arizona...


"Whirling Arrow"

...and, in 1937, began building Taliesin West in what's now known as Scottsdale.


"Red Ocotillo"

Of course, it wasn't the resort community back then that it is now.



It was just a wide expanse of dry, clean, rocky desert up on a mesa.



That meant he could start building whatever he wanted and as much as he wanted—with help, of course, from not just the free labor of his apprentices in a traditional internship setup, but architecture students who paid to be there.



And some still do—as evidenced by the drafting studio, where a portrait of FLW peers over each workstation as the master architect might've once done in person.



Architecturally, the studio is a standout among the buildings of the Taliesin West compound...



...though FLW's own drafting table most likely was located in the bedroom he kept all to himself.



Each of the other buildings share a similar theme of "organic architecture," with exterior walls built of locally-sourced rock...



...though they were all purpose-built as an office, a conference room, and so on (and outfitted with FLW-designed furnishings).



But as this was one of the original live/work environments, it's hard to know where the living started and the working stopped (if it ever did).



Everything feels connected.



Of course, FLW and especially his wife Olgivanna used spaces like the garden room to show off his style to current and potential clients and business partners...



Letting in plenty of light (as there were originally no glass windows or even window coverings)...



...and providing a means to music in nearly every public space.



The architectural commune is a little quieter now than it used to be—especially in 100 degrees near the start of summer when school is out of session.



But the belltower still calls the students to gather at the dining hall for mealtime...



...where they'll sweep the floors, clear the tables, and tidy things up after being sufficiently fed.



What other types of tasks did students perform while studying at Taliesin West under FLW?



"Whatever the master asked," one former apprentice told our tour group. And we understood that didn't necessarily mean designing anything or even giving any opinions. They were there to do everything as FLW wanted (or, in the current case, as he would have wanted)—and not to develop their own style.



And sometimes, that meant actually supporting some of the non-architectural and non-educational activities happening on campus...



...including in the Music Pavilion, which once hosted salons and various performances....



...as well as the cabaret...



...a kind of dinner theatre space for guests...



...which now doubles as a movie theater.



It's interesting to visit Taliesin West because FLW built it (or had it built) on his terms, rather than trying to make someone else happy. And, as he conceived it as a "desert laboratory," it was meant to change, evolve, fail, and most of all, teach.

I get the sense that FLW was still learning, even as master at Taliesin West, until he died at age 91 in 1959.

Making changes upon each return to the desert and even continuing to add buildings, he never seemed to rest on his laurels. 

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: (Frank) Lloyd Wright's Joshua Tree Retreat
Photo Essay: How Bellfounding Helped Build an Unfinished Utopia