We are all familiar with the master architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his iconic works like Fallingwater. Known for being one of the pioneers of the Prairie style in architecture, Wright and his works are widespread and more or less essential to understand the evolution of the Modernist movement. Such an essential project of his lifetime is the Taliesin West in Arizona, USA. 

Here we shall take you through 10 lesser-known and interesting facts about F.L. Wright’s famous winter home and school, located in the arid deserts of Arizona. 

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View of the Taliesin West. ©Andrew Pielage

1. A UNESCO World Heritage Site

Situated in Scottsdale, amidst the McDowell Mountains of Arizona, Taliesin West is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Moreover, it is the first as well as the only cultural World Heritage Site in the state of Arizona. In addition, it has also been recognized as a National Historic Landmark of the USA. (Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, 2017c) 

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Plaques commemorating World Heritage and National Historic Landmark Status. ©Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

2. Taliesin: a homage to Wright’s ancestry

Frank Lloyd Wright was born into a Welsh-speaking family, who had fled to the USA from Wales, owing to the persecution of their belief in Unitarianism, in the latter. His background naturally had a profound impact on his architecture later in life, and instances of which are visible throughout his career as an architect. (BBC News, 2017) The name ‘Taliesin’, in Taliesin West and East, is itself in honor of the name of a Welsh bard, translating to ‘Shining Brow’. (Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, 2017a) 

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An Exterior View. ©Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

3. Not-so-singular Building

Taliesin West, even though it may seem like a singular unit, is a series of varied spaces connected through gardens, terraces, and pools. During the building process, the home and studio were little more than a collection of ‘sleeping boxes’ arranged around a central terrace for Wright and his apprentices to sleep in. The many areas of the home for Wright and his wife, the apprentices, and the gathering spaces were all designed to preserve a sense of seclusion within, but a formal compositional balance with the landscape. (Kroll, 2011)

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View of the Interiors. ©Andrew Pielage

4. Pivotal in F.L. Wright’s Design Journey

Taliesin West is not only a sign of Wright’s flexibility and influence of his architecture across the land, but it also represents a turning point in his career, when context and vernacular began to blend into his well-established Prairie Style. (Kroll, 2011)

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Frank Lloyd Wright continued to stay at Taliesin West until his death in 1959 at the age of 91. ©Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

5. Use of locally sourced materials

Wright, like his other projects, was interested in locally available materials and similarly used them in Taliesin West. His use of the desert stone found on the site is one of the house’s most notable material choices. The flat faces of the stones were faced outwards with redwood formwork, and the space between the stones was filled with a concrete mix that made up the bigger stone walls and structural parts of the home. The roofing structure and elements of the home and studio’s exterior were also made of natural redwood. (Kroll, 2011)

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Desert stone from the site was used in construction. ©Flickr user: godutchbaby

6. Native American Petroglyphs

If one were to tour the Taliesin West, the native American petroglyphs (rocks with carvings) are hard to miss. F.L. Wright was quite fascinated by these petroglyphs and that could be the reason behind why he chose this particular site having a significant number of these ancient petroglyphs, for his winter home. He was mystified by the history and spiritual significance of the numerous Southwest Native American communities in the region. One particular sign from these petroglyphs was the inspiration behind the Taliesin West’s logo. (Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, 2017b)

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One of the many petroglyphs at Taliesin West. ©Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

7. Wright’s Most Personal Creation

The entirety of Taliesin West was built by Wright and his apprentices, thus making this creation one of his ‘most personal creations’. (Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, 2017c) This place was from where Wright designed some of his most iconic projects, like the Guggenheim Museum in New York City and Grady Gammage Auditorium on Arizona State University’s campus in Tempe. (Kroll, 2011)

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Exterior of the Taliesin West. ©Jim Steinfeldt

8. The controversy of Power Lines

The views of Taliesin West were so important to its success that when electricity lines emerged in the distance in the late 1940s, Wright demanded that they be buried. He went on to write about this and pushed his demand to the then-President of the USA, Harry S. Truman. It was a lost cause. After briefly pondering rebuilding in Tucson, he “turned his back on the valley” and moved the main building’s entrance to the back. (McKay, 2010)

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The building is oriented with its back towards the valley. ©Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

9. Long-term Winter Project

Taliesin West was a continuous undertaking for Wright, who returned to the home each winter to reassess earlier ideas and begin rebuilding portions of the house with his apprentices. Later additions included a bigger dining room, a music pavilion, and a cabaret theatre, which is considered one of Wright’s finest works.

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Interior view of the sunken and famous Cabaret Theater. ©Frank Lloyd wright Foundation

10. F.L. Wright’s New Gravesite

After F.L. Wright passed away in 1959, his body was buried, as per his wishes, adjacent to the Unity Chapel in the Lloyd-Jones cemetery, near the original Taliesin in Wisconsin. But, later, in 1985, members of the Taliesin Fellowship removed Wright’s remains from his grave, cremated them, and sent them to Scottsdale, where the remains were buried in the memorial garden of Taliesin West. The original gravesite, now empty, still bears Wright’s name. 

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s original gravesite in the Unity Chapel Cemetery in Wyoming, Wisconsin.The grave was later moved to Taliesin West, Arizona. ©Allen Browne

References

  1. BBC News (2017). Frank Lloyd Wright: Effect of architect’s Welsh heritage. BBC News. [online] 16 Jul. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-40592597 [Accessed 16 Jul. 2021].
  2. Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation (2017a). Getting Personal with Frank Lloyd Wright: Taliesin and Taliesin West. [online] Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Available at: https://franklloydwright.org/getting-personal-frank-lloyd-wright-taliesin-taliesin-west/#:~:text=As%20a%20nod%20to%20his [Accessed 16 Jul. 2021].
  3. Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation (2017b). Petroglyphs at Taliesin West. [online] Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Available at: https://franklloydwright.org/petroglyphs/ [Accessed 17 Jul. 2021].
  4. Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation (2017c). Taliesin West | Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. [online] Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Available at: https://franklloydwright.org/taliesin-west/. [Accessed 16 Jul. 2021].
  5. Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation (2020). Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Unveils UNESCO Plaque at Taliesin West. [online] Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Available at: https://franklloydwright.org/frank-lloyd-wright-foundation-unveils-unesco-plaque-at-taliesin-west/   [Accessed 16 Jul. 2021].
  6. Kroll, A. (2011). AD Classics: Taliesin West / Frank Lloyd Wright. [online] ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/123117/ad-classics-taliesin-west-frank-lloyd-wright. [Accessed 16 Jul. 2021]
  7. McKay, G. (2010). Taliesin West shows how architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, built in harmony with nature. [online] Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Available at: https://www.post-gazette.com/life/travel/2010/03/27/Taliesin-West-shows-how-architect-Frank-Lloyd-Wright-built-in-harmony-with-nature/stories/201003270247 [Accessed 18 Jul. 2021].
Author

Divyang, a young architect, is curiously exploring the field of Architecture and Design. He is keen on pursuing research on the relationship between the built environment and general well-being. One can find him playing music, clicking pictures, and writing poetry, whenever he is not geeking out over cinema and other forms of art.

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