One of my experiences that fueled my passion for nature was visiting my mother at her place of employment: Taliesin West Headquarters of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Employees and “disciples” spoke his name with hushed tones, and often referred to him as “the genius.”
One of his sayings, and there were many, that I liked was:
Every great architect is — necessarily — a great poet. He must be a great original interpreter of his time, his day, his age.
And Frank Lloyd Wright was a genius at interpretation! But the irony is that he was always ahead of his time!
Frank Lloyd Wright was born in 1867, and grew up in rural Wisconsin. He was taught the virtue of hard work, and acquired a love of the landscape. At the age of eighteen he entered university to study civil engineering and shortly thereafter began his career in architecture. He became a revolutionary and a nonconformist.
He despised what he called the stale, backward looking ideas of his peers who were designing architecture based on the Greek, Roman, Gothic, and Tudor models instead of creating a new, vibrant American landscape. He longed to be freed from the limits of existing material and designs.
In his various writings, he described “organic architecture” with site-specific construction where “form and function were one.” He set forth the principles of the Prairie House with open expanses and limited subdivisions, which he referred to as “boxes.” In case you’re not clear on the meaning of organic architecture, a phrase coined by Mr. Wright, it’s basically more than green, beyond individual, it describes a way of thinking about design that transcends the common, everyday buildings around us. ecological + individual = organic
No matter where I went — outside or inside — Taliesin West was all about bringing nature to the forefront! There is an excellent gallery of Taliesin West photos at Great Buildings.
So, why did Frank Lloyd Wright build Taliesin West?
Taliesin I was built in 1911 in Wisconsin. The word Taliesin means “a shining brow” perhaps alluding to the scenic location and vista. It was built to be a home, a work place, a school and a cultural center for his students. Wright designed it all, to the last piece of furniture. In 1914 it suffered severe fire damage.
Taliesin II was soon built on the same spot but was also damaged by fire, and again rebuilt as Taliesin III. He was not going to give up!
Then in 1927 architect Albert Chase McArthur (a former student of Wright’s) asked Wright to help him with the projected construction of the Arizona Biltmore Hotel. (I’ve been there, and it’s breathtaking!)
Wright accepted, came to Phoenix and presented plans based on his unusual architectural principles. There was opposition to the unique design and some compromises were made. Known today as The Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, the award winning property describes itself as “the only existing hotel in the world with a Frank Lloyd Wright-influenced design.”
Wright founded the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture in 1932 to teach his theories and practices to young men and women. Subsequently, he decided that he needed a camp to escape the harsh Wisconsin winters. Five years later the seventy-year-old architect returned to Arizona and purchased the land upon which he built Taliesin West.
It turned out to be much more than the winter camp for which it was intended. In the course of the next 22 years until his death in 1959, Frank Lloyd Wright was awarded, rewarded, decorated and celebrated here and abroad. He was a prolific writer, inventor, world traveler, and, of course, architect.
During his lifetime, Wright continually altered and added to the complex of buildings, all of which were constructed by students.Many of Wright’s most famous buildings were designed in the drafting room at Taliesin West, including the Guggenheim Museum in New York City and Grady Gammage Auditorium at Arizona State University in Tempe.
Taliesin West continues as the headquarters of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and as the winter home for the School of Architecture. The structure was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1982. Tours of the home and school are conducted on a regular basis.
In 2008, the U.S. National Park Service submitted Taliesin West along with nine other Frank Lloyd Wright properties to a tentative list for World Heritage Status. The 10 sites have been submitted as one, total, site. The January 22, 2008 press release from the National Park Service website announcing the nominations states that, “The preparation of a Tentative List is a necessary first step in the process of nominating a site to the World Heritage List.”
The 33rd Session of the World Heritage Committee will meet from June 22-30 in Seville, Spain to make that decision.
My mother was in awe of Frank Lloyd Wright, and so am I. His students are still creating buildings by his philosophy, so Frank’s gift will go on for generations. I’m happy about that. His organic architecture lives on!
(c) 2009 April Lorier
I know the price of success: dedication, hard work and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen. – Frank Lloyd Wright 1867-1959