Recently I visited Phoenix for work. Late one afternoon, I took some leave and Ubered over to Scottsdale to visit Taliesin West, winter home of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Like every other American of middling awareness, I knew who FLW was. My biggest exposure to him until recently was a 2006 People magazine article on how Angelina Jolie surprised Brad Pitt with a private visit to Fallingwater, one of Frank’s most famous works. Yea, that was awhile back. My own fascination with FLW began four years ago when a weird
dream happenstance brought him to my attention. In completely uncharacteristic fashion, I researched FLW and discovered a unique individual who led quite an interesting life.
By the numbers, it’s over 1000 (structures designed), 532 (designed structures completed), 532 (designed and completed structures that leak), lots (debt), 2 (number of college semesters completed), 7 (children), 3 (wives), 2 (tragic home fires), several (affairs), and many (idiosyncrasies).
Frank’s most tragic life story occurred in August 1914, when a worker set fire to his house and studio and murdered seven people with an ax, including Frank’s lover, Mamah Cheney, and her two children. It was the stuff of horror movies, only terrifyingly real. The same house, the original Taliesin (pronounced Tah-lee-ESS-en), located in Spring Green, Wisconsin, burned again in 1925.
Frank was a lover of nature, and he designed his houses to best showcase the natural world around them. While Fallingwater is arguably the best example of this, one can certainly see it at Scottsdale’s Taliesin West. The house blends right into the desert hillside. Lowslung and sprawling, everything about the interior points outside. Sitting in the living room, on the same furniture that existed when Frank lived there, one looks up and out at the hillside. The house enjoys a stunning view over the desert.
FLW was a great lover of music and theater. He required that his apprentices perform music and plays for entertainment in the evening. To that end, Taliesin West has two entertainment venues that still host events today, including a “Cabaret,” which resembles a delightful, intimate movie studio,
(photo by Andrew Pielage) and a “Music Pavilion,”
(photo courtesy of the FLW Foundation) where Frank’s third wife, Olga, directed plays and musicals from this little window on the side:
One can still study architecture at the School of Architecture at Taliesin (West). The school is tiny, with only about 24 students at a time in its three-year program. When they arrive, students are assigned a concrete slab in the desert. They live on their slab in a tent for the first year, and pay over $47,000 for the privilege. Talk about roughing it. Students must walk down the hill for bathroom facilities. After their first year, they are given some money to use to build a structure on their slab. When they graduate, they must break it down. What a creative mind can do with a few materials is pretty amazing. You can see photos of a few of them here. One of my favorites:
(photo by Brian Guido)
Taliesin West is worth the visit to see a true living and learning museum in a stunning setting.