Nature and Architecture in Harmony at Taliesin West

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West

12345 N. Taliesin Drive
Scottsdale, AZ 85258
franklloydwright.org

Long a fan of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, I’ve visited several of his homes and landmark sites like the Rookery Building and Robie House in Chicago, Unity Temple in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, and Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Now that I live in Scottsdale, Arizona, I have to admit I think it’s pretty cool that I’ve relocated to a city where a major thoroughfare is called Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard which leads to Taliesin West, Wright’s winter home and architecture school.

Architecture's harmony with nature at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona

Architecture’s harmony with nature at Taliesin West

Highlights of a tour of Taliesin West

Architecture is man’s great sense of himself embodied in a world of this own making. It may rise as high in quality only as its source because Great Art is Great Life!” — Frank Lloyd Wright

Festivities and events began last month to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s birth on June 8, 1867 and I marked the occasion with a visit to Taliesin West.  A 1-1/2 hour “Insights Tour” gives a good introduction to the famous architect and his design philosophy with commentary and anecdotes by expert guides while touring the property.

The “world’s greatest architect”

Frank Lloyd Wright is considered by many to be the greatest architect of the 20th century and the greatest American architect of all time. It may surprise you that he did not have a formal architecture education to reach his outstanding accomplishments and fame. Rather, he learned by doing, a key element of his philosophy that the aspiring architects of the Frank Lloyd School of Architecture at Taliesin are still following.

Frank Lloyd Wright was not a humble man. Our tour guide told us about a time in a court of law when Wright was asked to state his occupation. He responded that he was “the world’s greatest architect.” Explaining to his wife later, he said, “I had no choice, Olgivanna. I was under oath.”

Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose honest arrogance and have seen no occasion to change.” — Frank Lloyd Wright

His level of self-confidence and arrogance was also seen in his surprise inspections of homes he had designed to see what the owners had done to his houses and insist upon changes that met with his approval.

Arizona’s Sonoran Desert and organic architecture

A look over the rim of the world! Just imagine what it would be like at sunrise or at sunset with cloudless sky in outlines ever devised, neither let or hindrance to imagination — nothing to imagine beyond the reach of the finite mind.” — Frank Lloyd Wright to his wife Olgivanna Lloyd Wright in 1936

Water, mountains, rocks -- the Taliesin West environment

Water, mountains, rocks — the natural environment of Taliesin West

Wright coined the term “organic architecture” to characterize the harmony between design and nature. That philosophy is evident in Taliesin West’s design where the buildings, grounds, and decorative touches are part of the rocky Sonoran Desert landscape.

Prow of the ship landscape design at Taliesin West

Prow of the ship landscape design at Taliesin West

Wright described the desert as being like the bottom of the ocean and so designed the front of the property overlooking the valley to be like the prow of ship.

Petroglyphs are found throughout Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona

Petroglyphs are found throughout Taliesin West

Consistent with other Frank Lloyd Wright sites I’ve visited, there are many interesting surprises to be discovered in addition to the signature design elements in the private living quarters and on the grounds of Taliesin West. Wright was fascinated by the petroglyphs (shown in the photo above) of the area and positioned several of them throughout the property.

Japanese prints in Wright's library/office at Taliesin West

Japanese prints in Wright’s library/office

Wright also had an affection for Japanese prints and Chinese ceramics which are seen throughout Taliesin West.

Asian ceramics at Taliesin West are placed throughout the property

Inside of Frank Lloyd Wright homes, I’ve always felt that I was in a unique work of art. My favorite part of Taliesin West’s interior was the Garden Room, a large gathering place for Wright, his wife, and their guests with views of the spectacular desert scenery through the windows.

South end of the Garden Room at Taliesin West

South end of the Garden Room at Taliesin West

Music and architecture

I was fascinated to learn about Wright’s deep interest in music and his belief in the synergy between music and architecture. In fact, Wright was influenced by Beethoven in how he approached his designs seeing the same innovative talents to be necessary for creating great music or architecture.

It is in the music pavilion of Taliesin West where Wright’s apprentices were required to do weekly musical performances to express their artistic skills, learn social skills and gain self-confidence.

Left: Exterior and interior walls and ceiling of the cabaret -- Right: Music Pavilion

Left: Exterior and interior walls and ceiling of the cabaret — Right: Inside the Music Pavilion

Influenced by European cabarets, Wright designed his own cabaret theater at Taliesin West. Due to the room’s hexagonal shape and rock and concrete materials used to build it, the acoustics in this entertainment venue are said to be 95% acoustically perfect.

The longer I live the more beautiful life becomes. If you foolishly ignore beauty, you will soon find yourself without it. Your life will be impoverished. But if you invest in beauty, it will remain with you all the days of your life.” — Frank Lloyd Wright

Tips for visiting Taliesin West:

  • Make a reservation to be sure to get on a particular tour. It is a very popular year-round Scottsdale attraction.
  • In summer months, try to take the morning tours (the earliest is at 9:00 a.m.). Although most of the “Insights Tour” is indoors, there is enough time spent outside that you’ll want to avoid the hottest times of the day. Be sure to stay hydrated. It’s a good idea to bring a bottle of water, but there is also water available when you visit one of Wright’s offices early in the tour.
  • This is the Sonoran Desert, so keep your eyes open for wildlife sightings. A bobcat appeared near our group as we were starting the tour. It wasn’t the first bobcat I’ve seen since moving to the desert, but it was still a bit of a thrill.
  • Stroll the grounds near the bookshop to see sculptures by Heloise Crista.
Sculptures on the grounds of Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona

Sculptures on the grounds of Taliesin West

  • Consider a Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation membership if you live near or travel to Frank Lloyd Wright sites. Membership includes unlimited “Insights Tours” for two during the year (for you and/or your guests), participation in the Frank Lloyd Wright National Reciprocal Sites Program (which includes free tours and other discounts at 31 Frank Lloyd Wright sites in the United States).

Disclosure: Thanks to Experience Scottsdale for arranging my visit to Taliesin West.

 

20 thoughts on “Nature and Architecture in Harmony at Taliesin West

  1. Carol Kubota

    I live in Fountain Hills and have been to the Taliesin many times. It is the must see place for visitors and students. He has so many houses and buildings all over the US and I always try to find them. Thanks for sharing your insights. I am always surprised at how small the house is.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      I’m sure I’ll be visiting many times, too. That’s one of the things that makes the FLW membership so cool! Interesting about the size of the living quarters. I guess FLW didn’t believe in wasting space.

  2. Janice Chung

    I have to admit I am learning more about Frank Lloyd Wright through your posts! But I can’t believe he made his apprentices do weekly musical performances! By the way, I love the phrase that he used, “Honest arrogance”.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Very interesting man, that FLW. I’ve long been fascinated by his work, but keep learning new things about his personality and character.

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  4. Billie

    I was just writing about Taliesin West- the post will be live tomorrow. We were privileged to get a private tour with one of the architects who had apprentices with Wright. What an amazing experience.

  5. Sue Reddel

    Cathy, I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoyed your article on Taliesin West. I’m a bit of a Wright lover myself. We live a few blocks from his home in Oak Park. I never get tired of seeing his iconic style. We visited Taliesin West years ago and I loved it. I’m wondering if they still have the student created housing right outside the property. We saw them on our tours and they were very interesting to be sure. If you get a chance go to Taliesin in Spring Grove, Wisconsin. It’s the original school and is fabulous.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Thank you for your nice comment. Yes, they still do have student-created housing, but I didn’t get to see any on this particular tour. I guess I’ll do that next time. I lived in Oak Park for a while, too. Loved seeing his studio and homes he designed there.

  6. Marilyn Jones

    Taliesin West is certainly a must-see in Scottsdale. I greatly admire Frank Lloyd Wright and his genius. I really enjoyed reading your article and looking at the photos; brings back memories of my own visit!!

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      You can’t stay in the major Frank Lloyd Wright homes and buildings, but there are quite a few FLW-designed homes in places like Oak Park, Illinois that you can possible buy. 🙂

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