While in Phoenix we got to see Taliesin West, which was Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home – as well as his architecture school and laboratory. Its 600 acres are located on the outskirts of Scottsdale, a Phoenix suburb. It’s open to the public, but you have to buy tickets in advance and go on a tour – you can’t just show up and wander around.

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It was far more remote when Frank Lloyd Wright first came here with his students in 1937. They had to live in tents and dig a well for water. Every year they would come for about 6 months and construct buildings by hand from local materials. Stones were collected from the surrounding desert.

The original Taliesin, Wright’s summer home, is in Wisconsin.

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Some of the stones they found bore pictographs left by indigenous people.

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Our tour was led by a docent who was both knowledgeable and enthusiastic. She was mostly interested in the buildings, though, while I was concentrating on the grounds.

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I thought this fountain courtyard was quite beautiful. I like that enormous decorative stone. Those are groves of orange trees in the background.

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Both the buildings and grounds feature geometric shapes inspired by the surrounding desert, hills, and buttes. Buildings are low, the walls and stairs angled like the nearby hills.

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This pool was built for practical as well as aesthetic reasons, to serve as a water reservoir available for putting out fires. In the early years this place was far too remote to be served effectively by the nearest fire department.

The woodwork and stairs above are painted a particular shade of red that imitates the red sandstone of nearby buttes.

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I believe the docent said that the roof was made from canvas. Windows are designed to let in horizontal light but stop the harsh direct desert sunlight.

I did wonder why there was so much lawn. Did they try to keep it green during the summer, or let it go dormant? I should have asked, but didn’t think of it. Incidentally, those are Lantanas (yellow and orange) and Bougainvillea (red) blooming above.

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There is something significant about these 2 statues but I can’t remember what it is. Short-term memory is not what it used to be.

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This courtyard features a moon gate.

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Nice water feature along one side of this building. Above is a bridge that unites 2 structures.

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Judy says I shouldn’t neglect the inside bits. This is the room they built for entertaining. Apparently Taliesin West was visited by many celebrities from the worlds of entertainment, politics, business, etc. Many of them were personal friends of Frank Lloyd Wright. The furniture was designed by the students, that chair that looks like it has wings was inspired by origami.

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This building was initially used to watch movies, I think. Frank Lloyd Wright was a big fan of westerns.

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He was also fascinated by East Asian art. He accumulated a vast collection, some of which adorns the campus.

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Taliesin West still serves as a school of architecture, as well as headquarters for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.

Even if you are not an architect or architecture enthusiast, it is definitely worth a visit. It demonstrates Wright’s inspiration for design powerfully and movingly.

43 Comments on “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Desert Inspiration”

  1. How interesting. I’ve seen FLW documentaries that featured Taliesin West but your photos added to that experience. I too, wonder about the expanse of green lawn in the desert SW. I have a cousin who built a quite unsuitable “English-style” house and garden in Santa Fe, NM. They now live in an adobe house surrounded by cactus!

  2. Thanks for the tour… I’m unlikely to ever get there. I like some parts of the house, and I’ll bet it’s cool inside .. ahead of his time with the thick stone walls. I also wonder where the water for the garden comes from?

  3. Hi all—the water is drawn from an aquifer on the property, as it was in Wright’s time. He acquired the water because he recognized that the property sat within the alluvial fan of runoff from the nearby mountains, and had the well drilled in 1938. The lawns are mostly original to Wright’s time (research suggests that they’ve expanded, but we’re still looking into that), so from a preservation perspective we need to maintain them, along with some of the tropical, non-native planting—a good opportunity to speak to how our understanding of sustainability has changed!

  4. Fascinating tour, thank you! I found it so interesting that one purpose of the pool was for putting out fires! I think my daughter and her boyfriend may have gone here not long ago – I’ll see if she remembers hearing anything about why there is so much lawn – good question!

  5. I don’t remember it looking so well as your photos illustrate when I visited over ten years ago. Of all the FLW homes and buildings I have visited, it was the least interesting architecturally. It seems, from his biographers, that FLW was an pretty unlikable fellow. I still like his sense of design. I’ve been to Falling Waters several times over the 60 years and will go again.

  6. I toured one of his houses designed for middle class Americans when I visited the Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas. One was moved there, and restored. I wasn’t at all impressed with that house, but this is more appealing. Paul’s remark about RLW being a bit of an unlikeable fellow made me smile. The docent at Crystal Bridges mentioned that he didn’t add garages, basements, or attics to the houses, because he didn’t want people collecting so much “stuff” it covered the lines of the architecture. That’s all well and good; he did provide carports. But I still don’t know where you’d put the bicycles, the tools, and the Christmas tree.

  7. Gorgeous! If you ever make it to the Gulf Coast of Florida, be sure to check out Florida Southern College in Lakeland, just outside of Tampa. It boasts the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright designed buildings in one place.

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