Friday, December 12, 2014

Great Architecture: Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West

Lucky me got to take a short trip to Arizona last week. The entire sojourn lasted only four days, and two of those were really mostly travel. When you live in Hawaii, even the closest thing is five plus hours away by air. The flight from Honolulu to Phoenix was a little under 6 hours. 

Not to be intimidated my the wealth of sights and our lack of time, we crammed quite a few adventures into our brief stay. At the top of my Scottsdale list was a visit to the winter home of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wrignt: Taliesin West. 

The entry area with a fountain and the entrance to the book store

Taliesin (Welsh for "Shining Brow") West is located on the desert hillside overlooking Scottsdale, Arizona. It is run by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. The property is also home to the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. 

A large rock with ancient petroglyphs greets visitors

The Foundation offers a wide range of guided tours to the estate every day, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  There are other special tours available, though not daily, including some evenings. We opted for a 90-minute Insights Tour that took us not only around the grounds and the public areas such as Wright's office, the Cabaret Theater, or the Music Pavilion, but also into the private living quarters of Mr. and Mrs. Wright.

Taliesin West, the winter home of the Wrights and their students, was built between 1937 and 1959. Wright kept changing and modifying the buildings and spaces, and the current state of the complex reflects how everything looked at the time of his death in 1959.

The house and surrounding buildings blend organically into the landscape. Nature was Wright's greatest muse, and Taliesin West is a great example of combining the man-made with the natural.

The buildings are complexly simple, with clean lines and a unified color palette, but there are many different changes of elevation, to take advantage of the hillside setting. The prevailing color is called Taliesin Red, a rich earthy brownish red. The day after I got home from Arizona, the internet was abuzz with (dis)approval over the Pantone Color of the Year 2015 - a brownish red called Marsala - that though it is different in hue from Taliesin Red, nevertheless I think Wright would have approved of it.  You can check Marsala out at Pantone

Wright created Taliesin Red to match the mountains of the Sonoran Desert. The color is everywhere: on the floors, upholsteries or the outside of the buildings.  Considering that the complex dates back to 1937, it is an amazingly modern structure. 

Japanese art and design were another inspiration for Wright, who during most of his long life made a better living by dealing in art than in architecture. Taliesin West has many references to Japanese design, and there are several Japanese art pieces on the property.

The buildings used to be completely open to the outside, with only canvas panels protecting them from the elements.  Windows were only installed years later. The house kept changing and evolving up until Wright's death.  

Small red windows provide ventilation to the living quarters. 

The landscaping surrounding the buildings is also an integral part of the scene, creating a harmony between inside and outside. Desert plants like agave and bougainvillea add color to the rocky countryside.

In 1991, the American Institute of Architects named Frank Lloyd Wright the greatest American architect of all time. His homes, Taliesin and Taliesin West are National Historic Landmarks, and are currently being considered along with some of Wright's other work for World Heritage Site status. 

 Inside one of the three theaters on the property.

You can find more information about the estate and book tickets at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation's Taliesin West page

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