“Living in the desert is the spiritual cathartic a great many people need. I am one of them.” -FLW
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the iconic Fifth Avenue building designed by seminal architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The museum’s golden anniversary has inspired a year-long series of events beginning with the exhibition Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward (through August 23), which highlights the scope of Wright’s work from demolished and un-built structures to private residences to the museum itself. Of particular interest is the companion exhibition Learning by Doing—titled after Wright’s fundamental pedagogic principle. Featuring seven decades of desert shelters designed and built by students of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture (founded in 1932), the show transports viewers to one of his most inventive architectural creations, Taliesin West.
Contact with nature was always important to Wright, and he strove to integrate his professional and personal life by founding the Taliesin West campus, where fellows lived and worked alongside him. Beginning in the winter of 1938, he initiated an annual migration from the snowy hills of his home and school in Wisconsin to the desert landscape of Paradise Valley, just outside Phoenix, Arizona. Wright believed that the change in scenery would benefit the mind and spirit, and this peripatetic tradition remains an integral part of the curriculum at the school.
The buildings of Taliesin West consist of Wright’s family house and studio, living quarters for fellows, gathering rooms (including the dining room, garden room, and theater), and workspaces that are joined by rambling terraces and loggia. Built over the course of three years, these structures spread horizontally across 640 acres, highlighting the vertical peaks of the nearby McDowell Mountain Range. Desert masonry was used to integrate the buildings into the landscape: low walls of stone were created using local rocks and boulders with concrete infill. Wright’s original construction included canvas ceilings, that harnessed the harsh desert light, subtly illuminating living and work spaces in an airy manner suitable for desert living. While the canvas has since been replaced with a durable plastic material, the Cherokee red timber framing remains.
Postwar growth allowed for expansion at Taliesin West, and in the 1950s Wright added a cabaret theater and large performance pavilion-music, art, and film have continually played an important part of life and scholarship at the school. Wright furnished these spaces with original and built-in furniture, using his customarily geometric design vocabulary in both the structures and furnishings in a way that unifies the built environment with its natural setting.
Already a national historic site, Taliesin West was recently added to US World Heritage’s tentative list of natural and cultural sites for nomination. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation offers several daily tours at Taliesin West that highlight various aspects of the property and Wright’s work: the panorama tour features the integration of indoor and outdoor space; the insights tour lets visitors see and interact with the private spaces at Taliesin; the behind the scenes tour gives visitors access to the areas of student life a the school; and the desert walk explores the trails, natural vistas, and native vegetation and landforms of this remarkable site.
Taliesin West is open daily from 8:30-6, except certain holidays. Tour reservations are recommended, and prices vary. For more information, call (480) 860-2700 ext. 494 or 495, or visit www.franklloydwright.org.