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Learn About Scottsdale’s Most Famous Architect, Frank Lloyd Wright

Learn About Scottsdale’s Most Famous Architect, Frank Lloyd Wright

Photo credit: Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation 

Did you know that the great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright spent the last few decades of his life in Scottsdale and continues to have a lasting legacy in Arizona? Many people know Frank Lloyd Wright from the early days of his career, but Scottsdale is where the architect chose to build his winter retreat and architecture school. 

It’s easy to miss it if you don’t know it’s there, but nestled into the corner of the McDowell Mountains you will find Taliesin West, which is Frank Lloyd Wright’s “desert laboratory.” 

The reason why Wright’s architecture continues to be so meaningful to the local community is that Taliesin West existed long before Scottsdale was much of a town at all. When Frank Lloyd Wright first broke ground on Taliesin West, it was 26 miles from the Phoenix city center, and there was almost nothing in between. 

His work put a powerful emphasis on harmony with people and the land, and he placed great importance on communal rooms for gathering, like dining rooms and terraces. He also was one of the first architects to really bring nature and the outdoor elements inside and allow for influence from the natural surroundings. His efforts around sustainability are still very relevant to the conversations architects have today. 

Guests can take tours of this astonishing architectural beauty, which has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site and a National Historic Landmark. Taliesin West was built to be Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home in 1937, and it remains an Arizona treasure to this day. 

The History of Taliesin West

Photo credit: Modern Day Nomads

Frank Lloyd Wright had a long career before heading west to Arizona. He ended up in Scottsdale in his 70s, when his doctor urged him to seek a warmer and dry climate that would be better for his health. He always loved the desert, so he brought some apprentices out with him and broke ground on Taliesin West. He built Taliesin West to embody his idea that “a building should fit its environment like a nest in a tree” (National Endowment for the Humanities). 

That is why it’s not always easy to spot Taliesin West- the low roof and colors of the building perfectly blend into the mountainside. Wright took inspiration from the natural structure of the land and used it to seamlessly tie the home into the desert landscape. 

Taliesin West was built to be a winter home for Frank Lloyd Wright and his wife, but he also intended it to be a spot for community gatherings. At the time the location was extremely remote, so it was built to be a place where people appreciated nature and shared meaningful conversation and art with others. 

Taliesin West remained a work in progress for many years, with certain areas of the home not fully completed until the 1950s. Frank Lloyd Wright was notorious for moving slowly with his work and constantly evolving elements of rooms. Wright passed away in 1959, and Taliesin West became one of the most important parts of his career. People visit from around the world to see his designs and to tour the beautifully designed space.

Take a Tour of Taliesin West

Photo credit: The Roaming Boomer

No matter if you just moved to Scottsdale or have lived in the city for years, it’s worth a trip to Taliesin West to see the architecture for yourself, as the home is truly one-of-a-kind. Currently Taliesin West is open Thursday-Sunday from 9:00am-11:30am for tours during the week. 

Guests should know that Taliesin West is not a spot where you can go and walk around on your own. You must go on an official tour to get to see the home interior and surrounding grounds.The tours book up quickly, so it’s best to make a reservation before you go. The property currently offers two types of tours on a daily basis: their guided tour and self-guided audio tour. 

The self-guided audio tour is a great option if you prefer to move through spaces at your own pace and really take your time in each room. The audio recording has narration from the professional tour guides, and also has clips of Frank Lloyd Wright himself speaking about Taliesin West. 

If you prefer to have a more interactive group experience, opt for the guided tour, which is directed by a very knowledgeable tour guide who will be able to answer any questions that arise as you walk through the home. On both tours, you get to see many of Wright’s most famous rooms, including his drafting studio and garden room. 

With either tour the price is $40 for adults and takes about 60 minutes. Before you book your tour, decide whether you want a more social and interactive experience or if you would prefer to take in Taliesin West on your own. 

If you finish your tour and find yourself feeling inspired, head to the Frank Lloyd Wright store on the property, where you can purchase books and home decor related to the life of Frank Lloyd Wright and his work. 

Visit the Architecture School 

Photo credit: Arch Daily 

When the architecture school was first founded, Frank Lloyd Wright oversaw it and ran it as much more than just a place to learn. The students all lived together and were expected to get together for their meals and weekly entertainment. 

The students were also expected to build their own small residences for themselves, which is a tradition that has carried into the present day. They still try to incorporate elements of the natural surroundings to make the shelters blend in, and the designs are all very unique. You can find the student’s living quarters located in the desert behind the home, which allows them easy access to their classes but also keeps them close to nature. 

Current Projects at Taliesin 

Photo credit: The Architect’s Newspaper 

The home was closed for tours during most of 2020, but this allowed the conservation team to take some time for much needed work on the property. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation has been working to “create a more aesthetically authentic experience” (Arch Paper) for certain rooms that may have been altered from the original way Frank Lloyd Wright designed them. As the home is open for tours every day, there has been some wear over time to various rooms throughout the years, and this project has allowed them to reupholster and restore the home to its intended full glory. 

Part of this conservation effort also includes restructuring the rooms into their original configurations. A large part of what makes all the homes Frank Lloyd Wright designed so unique is the very unusual way he would structure or place furniture in rooms, as he had very specific philosophies about setting up the energy of a room correctly. 

Photo credit: Brian Guido 

Frank Lloyd Wright left behind a vibrant legacy in the Scottsdale community. He was a lover of the desert and greatly advocated for the conservation of the land. In fact, he was notoriously upset when the energy companies began building above-ground power lines that would obscure the view from Taliesin West. He even wrote a letter to President Truman petitioning for the power lines to be buried underground! If your visit to Taliesin West leaves you eager to learn more about the famous architect, check out the book Loving Frank, which provides insight into the decades of his life leading up to his move to Arizona.

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