Warmth bakes my skin as I walk a pathway lined with cactus, sagebrush, and the scurrying of unseen critters. I take a deep breath and my senses overflow with the incredible smell of fresh oranges, heated rock, and cactus blossoms. With each step, I hear a crunch of the sand mixed with pebbles and discarded cactus nettles that somehow create the illusion that I am the first person to have ever walked this desert path. That is until I raise my eyes to the horizon to see a structure that fits into the landscape so seamlessly that I have to double take to make sure it isn’t a mirage. It is then that every feeling of discovering this forgotten desert is replaced by a feeling of pure magic. This is Taliesin West.
Photo Credit: Foskett Creative, Courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
The magic that Taliesin West provides the soul is enough to impassion you for years to come. Frank Lloyd Wright brilliantly conceived the idea to run an Arizona counterpart to his Wisconsin architecture academy, Taliesin. Here he could teach his apprentices and build a second campus, and winter home, all under the same name. Thus, from 1933, Wright and his fellowship made their way to the Scottsdale, Arizona deserts each winter, where Wright discovered the current location of Taliesin West in Paradise Valley; what he felt was the top of the world.
The main design conception was birthed when Wright and his fellowship stumbled upon some Native American Petroglyphs among the rocks on his 620-acre lot. There was a common symbol that sparked Wright’s interest–two interconnected lines that reminded him of two clasping hands. After he stylized this design, he used the distinct elements in the master blueplan to form Taliesin West. Since Wright felt an undeniable connection to the desert and he wanted to pay homage to the vast beauty and powerful quietness of the sprawling land through his design, all of the materials used to build Taliesin West were found on the lot and crafted on site. He pictured the structure blending in with the desert landscape and creating a sense of embellishment to the natural landscape, rather than simply placing a foreign structure on a piece of free land.
He considered every detail including light. He wanted as much light in the home as possible without using glass because it wasn’t natural to the area and blocked out the sensations of the desert, so instead, he used canvas for coverings in case of bad weather. There are no right angles in the structure and the entrance to each room is a low eight-foot entrance. Details like this are what make Taliesin West live up to the architectural genius Frank Lloyd Wright existed as.
Photo Credit (left): Courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation; (Right): Scott Bay
My first impressions of Taliesin West are full of contradictions — humble but impressive, confusing but enlightening, and humble but grand. As the sun set, I shook my head at what I saw as so beautiful yet so confusing–Taliesin West as such a modern structure; a geometric playground of mystery, surprise, and peace that continuously draws me in as I travel from room to room, ducking to enter the small door frames that open to light-filled oases with custom furnishings.
It’s then I learn how each and every room is perfectly designed to create a strong sense of belonging. Blasts of fresh air and desert wind hit us as we walk from the outdoor passageways between each room. Just as I’m thinking how wonderful the air feels on my hot face, the tour-guide shares that Frank Lloyd Wright designed each outdoor hallway to capture the seldom wind of the desert to create a subtle breeze year round; this solidifies my admiration of Mr. Wright. We end the tour in a man-made hexagon cave that was used to entertain. After we walk through the low doorway, I touch the cool concrete walls, close my eyes, and know that I’ve been fully inspired by the perfection that Frank Lloyd Wright created.
Photo Credit: Andrew Pielage, Courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation