Friday, April 16, 2010

Frank Lloyd Wright's Winter Home - Taliesin West


Taliesin West panorama

My daughter and I spent a flawless weekend in the Phoenix area, surrounded by the rugged Sonoran Desert of Arizona. We went to three San Francisco Giants spring-training baseball games, did a little retail therapy, and even squeezed in some sight-seeing.

As an extra-added bonus, we met my blogger friend Sherri, of Postcards and Coasters. To our delight she was able to join us for a game in Tempe and she joined us the following morning to tour Frank Lloyd Wright's winter home and headquarters of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, "Taliesin West".

DSC05538 Sherri at Taliesin West

Our tour guide, Sandy, was a fount of knowledge on facts and tales about Frank Lloyd Wright and Taliesin (Welch for "shining brow") West.

DSC05296 Taliesin tour guide Sandy

She relayed an anecdote about the time that Frank Lloyd Wright was in a court of law. When asked to state his name and profession he replied, "I am Frank Lloyd Wright and I am America's greatest architect." After someone asked him why he chose this reply, he answered, "Because I was under oath."

Frank Lloyd Wright was a prolific architect, creating 1141 plans in his lifetime, with over five hundred resulting in completed works. He understood the value of intellectual property and fiercely protected all his designs long before the practice became commonplace in recent years. He never sold his plans outright, he only turned over his plans for the duration of a project and insisted upon their return at the end to ensure that they are never used again.

It speaks to Wright's ambition and confidence that he chose a land so rough and unhewn to fulfill his dream to build his winter home, a school of architecture, and an artist community. It is easy to understand how Wright fell in love with this stunningly beautiful location in the middle of the Sonoran Desert near Scottsdale, especially if he first saw it in full bloom like we did.

DSC00602 Taliesin West desert view

DSC05357 Taliesin West - Sonoran Desert view


DSC05537 Taliesin West cacti

Wright and his third wife Olgivanna, along with 23 of his architectural apprentices, arrived at Taliesin West on Christmas Eve in 1937. They continued to live here every year from October through the end of May for the rest of their lives. At first, they lived the rural life in tents without running water, electricity, or telephone. They purchased hauling water for on-site use and drove west to Phoenix to take showers at the YMCA. The tents evolved into open shelters tucked into hillside to protect them from the wind. Olgivanna finally won a six-year hard-fought battle to get glass windows installed. Once installed, Wright referred to the glass windows as "the best idea I ever had". In 1953, they finally got electricity. Wright died six years later at age 92.

From Whirling Arrow to Clasping Hands

Wright drew inspiration from the desert and the Native Americans petroglyphs he found on the land.

DSC00590 Taliesin West petroglyph

He modified one petroglyph image that the Native Americans called "Whirling Arrow"...

DSC05289 Taliesin petroglyph

...to create the "Clasping Hands" logo for Taliesin West:

DSC05540 Taliesin West clasping hands logo and fountain

Desert Masonry

The use of local materials to blend his structures into the environment was a pivotal element of the approach Wright coined "Organic Architecture". He used the sand and quartzite rocks found on site to create "desert masonry". As a gift of nature, the crystalline quartz rocks found within five miles of the site had a natural flat side thus making them highly desirable to be used as a basis for all the walls.

DSC05318 Taliesin West desert masonry with volunteer cactus

He and his apprentices built all walls slanted, like these used to build the vault.

DSC00588 Taliesin West vault


The Office

Frank Lloyd Wright designed entryways to be deliberately dark, narrow and low which forces a visitor to bow, as in the Japanese culture. It imparts a feeling of an "embrace" before the stark contrast of "release" into a room with an abruptly-raised ceiling filled with natural light. These claustrophobic entrances also have the practical advantage of encouraging visitors to not linger and block entryways. This practice known as "embrace and release", or "compression and release", is a hallmark of Wright's architectural style.

We bowed as we entered the Taliesin West office...

Taliesin West panorama


DSC00591 Taliesin West office

...and stepped into the light and airy office sparsely decorated with Wright's Asian artifacts.

DSC05300 Taliesin office

We sat by his work table...

DSC00587 Taliesin West FLW table

and sat on his drafting benches.

DSC05292 Frank Lloyd Wright drafting bench

Sandy told us about Wright's fascination with hexagons, especially if they were asymmetric...

DSC05294 Frank Lloyd Wright office door and ceiling

...and the modular white panels that diffuse the light from the glass ceiling while casting no shadows.

DSC05301 Taliesin office ceiling

Even after his death,Wright still wields his control over Taliesin West. He gave permission to improve upon his designs only for preservation purposes. The preservationists are relatively certain that Wright would be pleased that the fragile canvas panels are now replaced with the more durable fiberglass-based material.

Next time, I will show you the home Frank Lloyd Wright built on the shining brow of the Sonoran Dessert.

18 comments:

Mumsy said...

What a wonderful post, and very informative! I love your photos that show every corner of your tour..

Ruth said...

How brilliant. You. FLW. Did you plan to be there when desert flowers were blooming? It is a rare honor to visit Taliesin West. Thank you for sharing your excellent photos and experience.

Amazing that he didn't have running water for all that time. My friends Ed & Martha built a fantastic home outside Sedona, and he told me about the water issues, especially when the wildfires were raging a few years ago - frightening!

maggie said...

It was a treat to read this. Especially liked the 'embrace & release' concept you shared. We were down in Oct and so never saw the desert like this.

Susan said...

OMG! What a genius that man was...and what an incredibly huge ego he had! That first picture of the house perfectly illustrates why it is named the "eyebrow house". It sits just like an eyebrow on the face of the desert. I adore how his designs embrace the land and become a part of it. I can barely breathe after seeing it's beauty. If I got to see it in person, I would have to carry an oxygen tank!

There's a FLW house in Springfield where my son lives, about 40 minutes away. It was recently restored and reopened last year. I must make time to go see it.

Thank you for this post, dutchbaby! So inspiring!

margie said...

the shadows, oh my the shadows. love him. you might want to read a book called loving frank.

lisaschaos said...

Arizona is a wonderful area! I so love it! But I'm ever amazed at how much Wright got around! We have at least one here too, lol.

Postcards and Coasters said...

He really was an interesting man. I can't wait to go back and take some of the other tours they offer.

Love your photos... So glad I wasn't flying that weekend, it was great to meet you.

Marilyn said...

Love this post, as I love learning more about Frank Lloyd Wright. He has always fascinated me.

Relyn said...

Oh, I do love all the trips that you take. I absolutely love Wright's answer when under oath. They may be hard to live with, but you've got to love a man of such genius and confidence.

dutchbaby said...

Dear Mumsy,
Thank you for your kind words and for coming along!

dutchbaby said...

Dear Ruth,
Thank you - I blush. My daughter and I met in Phoenix to catch some spring-training baseball games before she came home for spring break. I'm sure Scottsdale is a favorite amongst baseball teams because the desert is so beautiful at this time of year.

This is my second time to visit Taliesin West, so these photos are gleaned from both visits.

I don't know when FLW finally installed running water but I'm guessing it was long after Olgivanna's wishes.

I have not been to Sedona yet - it's on my bucket list. I'm sure your friends have a fabulous house.

Dear maggie,
I was very happy to learn about the "embrace & release" concept because it is a bit disconcerting to be confronted with the dark entryways.

dutchbaby said...

Dear Susan,
FLW is one of the more famous narcissistic genius alongside Pablo Picasso and Armand Hammer. I hope you will see FLW's Springfield house soon because I hope to read about it on your blog :)

dutchbaby said...

Dear margie,
Thank you, "Loving Frank" was my choice for my book club about a year ago. We all enjoyed the book very much and it sparked quite a lively discussion.

dutchbaby said...

Dear lisaschaos,
I, too, was amazed at how many projects he designed and built in so many places around the world. We have a few here in the Bay Area. My favorite is the Marin Civic Center in San Rafael.

dutchbaby said...

Dear Postcards and Coasters,
I was thrilled you were able to join us. Next time, I'd love to take the desert shelter tour and/or a night tour.

dutchbaby said...

Dear Marilyn,
Thank you. FLW is a complex genius.

Dear Relyn,
I chortled when our guide Susan shared the story of FLW under oath. I shudder to think what the world would be like if we didn't have these geniuses.

rochambeau said...

Hello Dutchbaby,
I never saw this post, so it was really interesting to read. A Short while back, I saw a documentary about his life, but don't remember learning about Taliesin West. There is something about the air and vibe in Arizona and New Mexico that is soulful and serene. Glad you got to visit again with G. Frank Lloyd Wright is an American Icon.

Thanks for the boxes and Michele I know will be thanking you! They are safe.

We have been dining up a storm. The weather is Parfait. The buskers are out in full force.

Glad you had another reason to visit the FlowerMart, that you could help S. That you were there for to hang out with~~~

Miss you!
xox
Constance

Dutchbaby said...

Hi Constance,

Thanks for going back into the archives to find this post. It was good to read about my wonderful weekend in Arizona.

Maybe one day we can go here together!

xox
D

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