Scottsdale, AZ

Legacy of Revered Architect Lives On at Taliesin West

Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, Arizona, houses the master archive of blueprints for Frank Lloyd Wright houses

Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, is a shrine to revered American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Built on a shoestring in the 1940s during a period when money was scarce, it is now the campus for the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture and houses the master archive of blueprints for Wright houses, which are still requested by home builders today.
PETER NEVILLE-HADLEY/Meridian Writers’ Group

FRANK LLOYD Wright was once accused by a reporter of using his architecture school to make little Frank Lloyd Wrights.

“There’s no such thing as a little Frank Lloyd Wright,” snapped the architect.

There’s certainly nothing little about Taliesin West, the combined office, school and winter residence maintained as a shrine to Wright’s memory. (He died in 1959, at 91.) It sits on what has become several hundred million dollars–worth of prime suburban real estate. Now embraced by the sprawl of Scottsdale, a part of greater Phoenix, it was in the middle of nowhere when Wright bought it in 1937 with the fees for the design of one of his most famous houses, Fallingwater.

The rather less glamorous architecture school was a combined academy and boot camp. The apprentices worked with Wright to build the complex with their own bare hands. Part of their training also involved building desert shelters elsewhere on the property, for which they had to be client, architect, contractor and fund-raiser all rolled into one.

Despite the success of Fallingwater, at the time he built Taliesin West Wright was going through a 20-year drought in commissions partly due to a rather scandalous private life.

As a result, the complex of low buildings, embedded into the sloping site and invisible from the main road, has a rough, textured look to many of its surfaces. Qualities that come from using the stones and sand of the site and incorporating found objects from various sources—all products of a lack of funds as much as of invention—are nevertheless pointed out by tour guides as marks of Wright’s genius.

Ceramic friezes, a riot of polychrome figures that once ran along the roof ridges of southern Chinese houses, are incongruously set into rough walls of boulders and cement. These were bought at a discount from an antiques store whose stock had been damaged in an earthquake.

Light was filtered in through canvas until Wright’s wife forced him to put in glass. Students arriving at the time began by learning to cut it, although the shortage of funds meant that the glass was usually second-hand, and they’d first spend time scraping off “Sam’s Café” or similar lettering with razor blades.

In contrast to that, the overall atmosphere is now monastic and reverential, especially in the hush of the drafting room where current students of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture bend over complex drawings. Many of Wright’s later, more charismatic works were first drafted here, and the site’s holy books contain 22,000 of his drawings and 350,000 other documents. The foundation that runs the site draws on these to deal with the requests that still come in to build houses from the master’s archive, although some of those plans have to be adapted to modern regulations, such as on ceiling heights. A good thing, too: Wright himself was short, and many a visitor has to duck when passing through doorways to Taliesin West’s cinema, lecture hall, theatre and living spaces.



For more information on Taliesin West visit the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation website at www.franklloydwright.org.

For information on travel in Arizona visit the Arizona Office of Tourism website at www.visitarizona.com.