Taliesin West: Frank Lloyd Wright's Conquest of the Desert. Scottsdale, Arizona 1937

Posted by George Pudlo on April 17, 2013 at 10:30 AM

I learned of a site twenty-six miles from Phoenix, across the desert of the vast Paradise Valley. On up to a great mesa in the mountains. On the mesa just below McDowell Peak we stopped, turned, and looked around. The top of the world!

These words are quoted from Frank Lloyd Wright's An Autobiography, describing his first view of the land that is now occupied by Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West. 

Magnificent -beyond words to describe! Splendid mystic desert vegetation...

Anybody that knows anything about Frank Lloyd Wright knows that nature was the inspiration behind his architecture. In fact, Wright said the his religion was Nature with a capital "N". Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright's whimsical winter camp, was built according to the landscape of the desert. Frank Lloyd Wright was quite familiar with Arizona by the time he built Taliesin West in 1937, having first journeyed there in 1928 to consult on the Arizona Biltmore Hotel, and lived there temporarily in 1929 in his Ocatillo Desert Camp in Chandler, Arizona, while developing the unbuilt San-Marcos-in-the-Desert compound for Dr. Alexander Chandler.

The 1930's were a time of revival for Frank Lloyd Wright on both a personal and professional level. The 1920's had been tumultuous years for Wright; he finally received a divorce from his first wife Catherine "Kitty" Tobin, with whom he'd been estranged from since he built Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin in 1911, and he finally married Miriam Noel, whom he met shortly after the Taliesin Tragedy in 1914. The marriage with Miriam Noel was short-lived, and by the time their divorce was in order, Wright had met his third and final wife, Olgivanna Hinzenburg. From a professional standpoint, few of Wright's projects came to fruition in the 1920's, among them were the concrete textile block houses and the Hollyhock House in Los Angeles, the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan, and a home for his cousin, Richard Lloyd-Jones in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The early 1930's weren't so great for Wright, either. He nearly lost Taliesin to the bank, and subsequently formed the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation with investors to get himself out of debt. 

In 1932, the Taliesin Fellowship was formed as Frank Lloyd Wright's school of architecture. With unusually disciplined methods, the Taliesin Fellowship learned by doing, which included building their own shelters. The mid 1930's brought about two of Frank Lloyd Wright's greatest executed projects: Fallingwater and the SC Johnson Administration Building. In 1937, Frank Lloyd Wright's commission for Fallingwater was $7,800, and he took that $7,800 and poured it into the development of his third and final home and studio complex, Taliesin West. 

After a serious bout of pneumonia that nearly took Wright's life, it was suggested by both Wright's doctor and his wife Olgivanna to spend his winters outside of Wisconsin's harsh climate. And from 1937 onward, summers with the Wright's were spent at Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin, and winters were spent in Scottsdale, Arizona at Taliesin West. The annual caravan down to Taliesin West included not only Frank Lloyd Wright and Olgivanna Wright, but also their children and the entire Taliesin Fellowship. 

As with Wright's previous homes that he built for himself -the Oak Park Home & Studio, and Taliesin- Taliesin West was an ongoing project, one which he altered and refined until his death. When Taliesin West was first built, it was truly a desert camp. The roofs and openings were covered in canvas to allow for protection, and a beautiful, warm glow in the interiors. Windows weren't installed at Taliesin West until the later 1940's through the early 1950's, at the demand of Olgivanna. Wright later said it was one of the best ideas he'd had. The final rendition of Taliesin West stood and stands as a series of buildings, including offices, studios, living quarters, theaters, and recreational space, interconnected by concrete terraces and low walls of what Wright termed "desert stone".

Today, Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West is owned and maintained by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and functions as their headquarters and site of the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives.

View of pool between the living quarters and Kiva at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West

Foreground: Frank Lloyd Wright's Office at Taliesin West      Background: Theater at Taliesin West

Passing the studio and workshop at Taliesin West, leading to a wading pool and living quarters

Studio and workshop at left, connected to the dining hall at right, Taliesin West

Dining Hall at Taliesin West

Entrance to the Cabaret at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West

Cabaret at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West, built 1949

Cabaret at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West, built 1949

Outside of the "Great Room" at Taliesin West


Entering the Taliesin West complex in Scottsdale, Arizona

Music Pavilion at Taliesin West, the last building constructed at Taliesin West, 1956

Taliesin West in the desert of Arizona

Categories: Frank Lloyd Wright Arizona, Frank Lloyd Wright Scottsdale (AZ), Taliesin West

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