Added to the National Register of Historic Places: February 12, 1974
National Historic Landmark designation: May 20, 1982
Scottsdale Historic Register designation – April 4th 2006
10 acres of the 490 acre Taliesin West Campus was designated.
In 1927 Frank Lloyd Wright went to Arizona to participate in the design and building of the Arizona Biltmore Hotel. The following year, Wright was commissioned by Dr. Alexander Chandler to design a luxury resort in Chandler, Arizona. Instead of living in a rented home, as he did in 1927-28 while working on the Biltmore Hotel, Wright decided to set up headquarters ten miles outside of town at a site he called Ocotilla. The Ocotilla camp was very important in the history of the development of Taliesin West. In the construction of the camp Wright and his apprentices developed many of the ideas and techniques that would later be used in the construction of Taliesin West, such as the use of a canvas and wood roofing system. However, when the stock market crashed in 1929 work on the resort project was halted and Wright and his apprentices returned home to Wisconsin abandoning the Ocotilla campsite.
In 1937 Wright decided that he wanted to create a winter home and headquarters for the Taliesin Fellowship, an architectural apprenticeship program that he started in 1932 at the Taliesin complex in Wisconsin. He purchased 800 acres of land northeast of Scottsdale, Arizona and began developing the Taliesin West complex. The complex started out as a group of tents and wooden frame buildings with canvas roofs that were constructed by students of the Taliesin Fellowship under Wright’s guidance. From the very beginning the complex was intended to be a working and living space that would incorporate Wright’s architectural ideas and principles: a building should be in harmony with its surrounding environment, intimate spaces should be incorporated in its design and buildings should be human in scale. The first phase of construction began in the winter of 1937-38 was completed in 1940.
Over the next two decades, until his death in 1959, Wright continued to alter and add to the complex, experimenting with different techniques and materials. After his death Wright's apprentices, under the supervision of Wright’s wife and then later William Wesley Peters, continued to experiment with the complex adding and augmenting existing building as needed.
Taliesin West is a desert complex of low slung buildings that served as Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home, architectural laboratory and school for his architectural apprenticeship program the Taliesin Fellowship. The complex is situated on over 500 acres of land and is located at the foot of the McDowell Mountains in the Sonoran Desert, twenty-six miles northeast of Phoenix, Arizona. The Taliesin complex consists of a triangular site plan with many significant buildings set at a 45 degree angle to the entrance drive on a northwest-southwest axis. The terraces that connect many of the significant structures together and a pool to the south and west of the main complex continue this triangular plan as well as establish a cross axis for the site.
The main materials used in the construction of the Taliesin complex were multicolored volcanic rocks available on site, cement, white canvas and redwood. Overtime glass and plastic were incorporated into the site. The walls, parapets and substructures that comprise the complex were hand-built using volcanic rocks that were embedded in cement through a process called “desert masonry”. In this process the rocks were placed into a wooden form and cement was poured in and allowed to set. Once dried the wooden forms were stripped and reused to continue the wall as desired.
The roofs of the office, drafting and garden room, three of several rooms that comprise the main complex, were made out of sheets of canvas that were stretched over large redwood trusses. However, due to the fact that the canvas used on the roofs needed constant replacement and repair, Wright began experimenting with different materials in order to find an appropriate replacement. Eventually, appropriate plastic materials that could hold up against the elements were incorporated into these structures.
The key building/features that comprise the complex include:
Garden Room (1938): The Garden room is a spacious, well-lit room designed and built by the architect and considered the showpiece of the whole complex.
Kiva Theatre (1938): Located in the apprentice court, the Kiva is a masonry structure that served as a movie viewing area, concert hall, theater, apprentice lounge, library, storage, and currently as a classroom and conference room.
Wright’s Office (1939): Wright’s office was one of the first buildings constructed and serves as the “dominate architectural theme” for the complex.
Drafting Studio, Kitchen and Dining Area (1939): These three areas form a group of interconnected buildings and are the core of the Taliesin West complex.
Sunset Terrace (1939): A formal, triangular, outdoor space adjacent to the core of the complex.
Shop(1939): A craft and shop area located at the western end of the complex.
Wright family living quarters (1940): A suite of rooms that served as the living quarters for the Wright’s.
Apprentice Court and Apartments (1941): A grouping of small rooms around a courtyard that served as living quarters for Wright’s apprentices.
Sun Cottage (1948): The Sun Cottage is a freestanding structure located east of the main complex. Originally called the “suntrap”, the cottage served as the initial living space for the Wright family. This living space was expanded in 1948 and renamed the Sun Cottage. In 1962 the area was enclosed and turned into a studio for apprentices.
Cabaret Theater (1951): The theater is a half sunken, reinforced concrete and desert stone theater that extends from Wright’s office.
Music Pavilion (1956, rebuilt in 1964): The pavilion is a steel-reinforced building with a roof of rigid-steel frames and translucent plastic used to host meetings, performances, and exhibitions.
Realigned Entrance Drive and Citrus Grove (1958): The citrus grove and the realignment of the entrance drive to include a vertical stone monolith were the final improvements made to the complex before Wright died.
The main materials used in the construction of the Taliesin complex were multicolored volcanic rocks available on site, cement, white canvas and redwood. Overtime glass and plastic were incorporated into the site. The walls, parapets and substructures that comprised the complex were hand-built using volcanic rocks that were embedded in cement through a process called “desert masonry”. In this process the rocks were placed into a wooden form and cement was poured in and allowed to set. Once dried the wooden forms were stripped and reused to continue the wall as desired.
The roofs of the office, drafting and garden room, three of several rooms that comprise the main complex, were made out of sheets of canvas that were stretched over large redwood trusses. However, due to the fact that the canvas used on the roofs needed constant replacement and repair Wright began experimenting with different materials in order to find an appropriate replacement. Eventually, appropriate plastic materials that could hold up against the elements were incorporated into these structures.
Taliesin West served as an arts and architecture community as well as laboratory community based on Wright’s educational theories, architectural principles and vision of society. To Wright, architecture was “both reflective of society’s ills and a cause of them” which he felt could be remedied through “harmonious design and interdependent living”. At Taliesin, apprentices were expected to not only learn the principles of design and to build and experiment with their own buildings but also to contribute to the overall community by performing such tasks as cooking and cleaning. Wright also put a lot of emphasis on the arts, incorporating music, paintings, drama and philosophy into the Taliesin experience. Wright’s holistic approach to architectural design and society are continued today by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and his school of architecture.
Considered one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s greatest architectural masterpieces, Taliesin West served as his winter home, office and studio from 1937 until his death in 1959. It also functioned as the winter headquarters for his architecture school the Taliesin Fellowship and serves as an embodiment of Wright’s educational theories, architectural principles and vision of society.
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