Front Facade Taliesin West by Frank Lloyd Wright

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Taliesin West was architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and school in the desert of Arizona from 1937 until 1959. Today it is the main campus of The School of Architecture at Taliesin and houses the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. The complex drew its name from Wright’s summer home, Taliesin, in Spring Green, Wisconsin.

Taliesin West in Arizona Technical Information

A building should appear to grow easily from its site and be shaped to harmonize with its surroundings if nature is manifest there, and if not try to make it as quiet, substantial, and organic as she would have been were the opportunity hers.1

– Frank Lloyd Wright

Taliesin West in Arizona Photographs
Aerial View of Taliesin West in Arizona by Frank Lloyd Wright

Aerial View

Facade Taliesin West in Arizona / Frank Lloyd Wright

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Front view Taliesin West in Arizona / Frank Lloyd Wright

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Gallery exterior of the school of Architecture at Taliesin West in Arizona / Frank Lloyd Wright

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Pool Taliesin West in Arizona / Frank Lloyd Wright

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Mountains and landscape at Taliesin West in Arizona / Frank Lloyd Wright

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Fountain at Taliesin West in Arizona / Frank Lloyd Wright

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Interior living room of Taliesin West in Arizona / Frank Lloyd Wright

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Text from the Architects

In 1937 Wright purchased the plot of desert land that would soon become Taliesin West. He paid “$3.50 an acre on a southern slope of the McDowell Range overlooking Paradise Valley outside Scottsdale.

Wright believed this to be the perfect spot for such a building: a place of residence, a place of business and a place to learn.

Finally I learned of a site twenty-six miles from Phoenix, across the desert of the vast Paradise Valley. On up to a great mesa in the mountains. On the mesa just below McDowell Peak we stopped, turned, and looked around. The top of the world.

– Frank Lloyd Wright

An investment of over $10,000 was needed to dig a well deep enough to provide sufficient water for the campus. The initial winters Wright and his students lived in tents while they built the first structures, mainly by hand using as much local material as possible (rocks, stone, and sand). The design of the buildings complemented the natural Sonoran desert landscape of the site.

When Wright and his family arrived they found Native American petroglyphs among the rocks. One, seen today at the beginning of the guided tour, shows what may be hands clasping. Wright stylized the figures into interconnected lines, which became the symbol of Taliesin West.

Arizona needs its own architecture… Arizona’s long, low, sweeping lines, uptilting planes. Surface patterned after such abstraction in line and color as find ‘realism’ in the patterns of the rattlesnake, the Gila monster, and the saguaro, cholla or staghorn – or is it the other way around—are inspiration enough.

– Frank Lloyd Wright

The structure’s walls are made of local desert rocks, stacked within wood forms, filled with concrete – colloquially referred to as “desert masonry”. Wright always favored using the materials readily available rather than those that must be transported to the site. In Wright’s own words: “There were simple characteristic silhouettes to go by, tremendous drifts and heaps of sunburned desert rocks were nearby to be used. We got it all together with the landscape…” The flat surfaces of the rocks were placed outward facing and large boulders filled the interior space so concrete could be conserved.

Natural light also played a major part in the design. In the drafting room, Wright used translucent canvas to act as a roof (later replaced by plastic because of the intense wear from the Arizona sun). In the south-facing dining room, Wright did not take the masonry walls from floor to ceiling and designed the roof to hang past the walls preventing unwanted sun rays from penetrating but allowing for horizontal light to pass through the room. Wright believed natural light aided the work environment he had his apprentices in, keeping the inside of his building in touch with the natural surroundings.

Every part of Taliesin West bears Frank Lloyd Wright’s personal touch. Upon every return after a summer in Wisconsin Wright would grab a hammer and immediately make his way through the complex. He would walk through each room making changes or shouting orders to apprentices closely following with wheelbarrows and tools.

He constantly changed and improved on his design fixing arising problems and addressing new situations. Throughout the years he enlarged the dining room, as well as added the cabaret theatre, music pavilion, and numerous other rooms. All of the furniture and decorations were designed by Wright and the majority built by apprentices. A brilliant aspect of Wright’s design is the cabaret theatre. Built with six sides, out of the standard rock-concrete mixture, in an irregularly hexagonal shape, the theatre provides its occupants with what someone has called “95% acoustic perfection”. Someone sitting in the back row can hear the slightest whisper from a speaker on stage.

Taliesin West in Arizona Floor Plan
Taliesin West floor plan by Frank Lloyd Wright

© Frank Lloyd Wright

Elevation of Taliesin West in Arizona / Frank Lloyd Wright

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Section details of Taliesin West in Arizona / Frank Lloyd Wright

© Frank Lloyd Wright

Taliesin West in Arizona Image Gallery
About Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright (June 8, 1867 – April 9, 1959) was an American architect, interior designer, writer, and educator, whose creative period spanned more than 70 years, designing more than 1,000 structures, of which 532 were completed. Wright believed in designing structures that were in harmony with humanity and its environment, a philosophy he called organic architecture.
Other works from Frank Lloyd Wright  

  1. In the Cause of Architecture I  (1908)