A short history of Taliesin West

The eccentric–and rather short–Frank Lloyd Wright.

Back in the 30s when Frank Lloyd Wright was building Taliesin West, it was a difficult, long drive from Phoenix across a dry, dusty riverbed. Some 26 miles north of Phoenix in what is now Paradise Valley, the site was located on a mesa below McDowell Peak on what Wright described as “The top of the world!”

Yesterday morning when I drove out there from the Arizona Biltmore, it was an easy jaunt down the freeway. I walked up the gravel path, beneath the vine-covered pergola, and stepped in to Wright’s workroom, immediately banging my head on the transom.

“Should have warned you about that,” said my host. “Low ceilings.”

According to her, Wright, who was only 5’8”, figured if you were any taller “it was a waste of material.” Consequently, everything at Taliesin is rather low to the ground—including the doorways and ceilings.

I came to Taliesin West expecting to feel awe and astonishment, and did I? Not really. The setting is gorgeous. The sloping walls built from rocks and sand scooped up out of the desert, not so much. The whole thing felt rather dark and closeted to me. I wanted big open rooms with expansive walls of glass overlooking the Sonoran desert. Instead, it felt kind of Hobbitish to me; little warrens and dark nooks. A place for monks. Or short eccentric architects.

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  1. Allan’s avatar

    Taller than 5’8″ “a waste of material”. I am sooooo biting my tongue.

    I can think of a caravan bed that would fit him.

    As for the look of the place, while we revere his architecture, most of the photos I’ve seen of his home commissions are of dark, smallish interiors. Falling waters is an exception.

    This designs were revolutionary for the time, but our tastes and expectations have moved on.

  2. Barbara Stoner’s avatar

    I agree, Allan. I’ve only been to the house on Chicago’s south side – seen pictures of others. Missed a chance to visit Falling Waters when I went to grad school for a short time in Pittsburgh. I can appreciate the idea of building with nature, but the modernists who from Wright onward forgot one item: comfort. To me, his rooms seem comfortless. For building in and around nature, I liked the photos from Africa, the Johnson revisit, much better.

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