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Drawing Taliesin West

A sketch of the exterior of Taliesin West. This view is of the Garden Room, one of the most famous parts of the building.

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For this drawing I chose to primarily focus on the stonework, one of the trademarks of Taliesin West.

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Reading about Taliesin West

While there is not quite as much material on Taliesin West as on some of Wright’s more famous buildings, there is still plenty to be said about the building that functioned as Wright’s winter home, studio, and school. Below are a few notes from a series of sources of information on Taliesin West.

From the Arch Daily online journal:

  • Taliesin West indicates a turning point for Wright in terms of design, in which he more fully integrates the idea of context and site specificity into his signature Prairie style.
  • Not only is setting the building low to the ground aesthetically pleasing, it also ensures more efficient natural ventilation, something essential for the Arizona heat.
  • Some of Wright’s most famous projects, such as the Guggenheim Museum in New York, were designed at Taliesin West.

According to the website of the Frank Lloyd Wright foundation, the building is not designed or built to contemporary accessibility standards. While this is a shame, it is also not truly a surprise, since not only was it designed and constructed before most of these standards were instituted, but Wright’s buildings are notorious for not being able to fully accommodate contemporary needs. Wright favored aesthetics over functionality, which led to structural problems even in his time and still persist today in some of his buildings.

The Frank Lloyd Wright foundation naturally also has a wealth of information of Wright himself. Some facts:

  • Though his career spanned a great deal of technological change, from travel by horse to spaceship, Wright’s main focus was always nature. This duality expresses itself in his work; his buildings combine technological innovation, such as cantilevers, with a deep and inextricable connection to their sites.
  • While Wright’s main mission was to create a uniquely American form of architecture, as exemplified by his Usonian homes, Wright was also tremendously influenced by Japanese art. He was a big collector and admirer, and many of his works (Taliesin West included) reveal this influence in their designs.
  • The perception of Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship is that it was just an architecture school, but the reality encompasses far more. Wright’s vision for the Taliesin Fellowship was that it would become a “total learning environment.” In addition to studying architecture, the apprentices learned a myriad of other skills from carpentry and construction to cooking to dance. The Taliesin Fellowship exists to this day, and the apprentices at Taliesin West today still follow this learning model.

In his introduction to Ezra Stoller’s book of plates on Taliesin West, Neil Levine describes the physical characteristics of the site and structure of Taliesin West.

  • The inspiration to construct Taliesin West came from Wright’s stay in Arizona working on a design for a hotel. Wright and his apprentices stayed for four months in the desert, living in a camp they constructed called Ocatilla. While the plans for the hotel fell through as a result of the Great Depression, Wright was inspired by the experience of working in the desert under the canvas ceilings that  allowed for better natural light and ventilation. Additionally, Wright craved change, and the costs of maintaining Taliesin in Wisconsin year-round were proving to be exorbitant, so Wright brought his family and the Fellowship to Arizona in 1937 to begin construction on Taliesin West.
  • Part of the source of the prehistoric feeling of Taliesin is that the site itself is quite ancient. The area in which Taliesin West sits was the hunting ground and ceremonial site for the prehistoric Hohokam, and their petroglyphs still mark the site.
  • While in most buildings the experience is defined by the enclosed spaces, the significance of Taliesin West is the space around and between the buildings. The walkways and terraces connect not only the structures to each other but to the landscape as a whole.

In contrast, Kathryn Smith’s Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin and Taliesin West focuses more on the Fellowship and how it interacted with the building.

  • The angular forms of the walls are meant to signify the tents of a nomadic tribe, further adding to the prehistoric feel of the building. A major emphasis in Taliesin West is framing views, to make the building feel like an extension of the desert floor.
  • Construction was never truly finished at Taliesin West until Wright’s death. He was constantly making alterations to the structure, some aesthetic and some structural, and never considered the structure complete. One of the main things he experimented with was light framework and what materials would be most conducive to creating a light-filled space.
  • Wright was extremely interested in film; he considered it “a form of education in the deepest meaning of the world.” Film played a central role at Taliesin West, with most of the famous aspects of the building (the Kiva and later the Cabaret-Theater) designed for the purpose of sharing film and music.
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Photographing Taliesin West (II)

Steve Minor’s Flickr photos of Taliesin West portray a building that is full of sun and color. His photos show clearly how Taliesin West fits in the landscape without being dull and camouflaged; instead, its specificity to the site actually beautifies both the site and building itself.

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Concerts and other performances were common at Taliesin West. There were many evenings in which the Fellowship, as it was known, would gather and enjoy music played by the apprentices.

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The Garden Room is one of the most photographed rooms in Taliesin West. With its long walls and low ceiling, it should feel claustrophobic, but because of all the natural light flooding the space it feels light and spacious.

 

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One of Wright’s architectural philosophies was to unify buildings with nature, and one of the ways he sought to do this was by bringing the nature in the buildings. The use of glass also helps to minimize the difference between interior and exterior space.

 

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Videos on Taliesin West

Patrick Dorsey interviewed one of the former users of Taliesin West, Arnold Roy, once a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. The video also includes a tour of Taliesin West.

This video is more of a slide show than a tour, but it provides many beautiful images of Taliesin West. The photos give a clear idea of the geometry of the structure and how it fits in the landscape. The views of Taliesin West at night are reminiscent of the phrase associated with Wright’s famous Fallingwater: the lantern in the forest.

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Photographing Taliesin West

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Wright preferred to use local materials for his buildings, so the stone used in the walls was found on site. The walls were constructed by filling the space where the wall was supposed to be with boulders and then casting concrete around it, so that the walls would seem like a natural extension of the landscape rather than something imposed on the site.

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The roof was originally constructed from redwood and canvas to allow for an abundance of natural light. However, these materials proved to be ineffective against Arizona summer temperatures of up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit, so the wood was reinforced with steel painted Wright’s signature Cherokee red, and glass replaced the plastic.

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Wright’s buildings are perfect examples of site-specific architecture, and Taliesin West is no exception. Its long, low forms and colors all evoke the impression of something that, in Wright’s words, “belongs to the Arizona desert as though it had stood there during creation.”

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The interior of Taliesin West is no less striking. The angle at which the roof slopes down would normally be very claustrophobic, and a roof of glass panels would quickly make a room overwhelmingly hot and bright, yet the roof of Taliesin West manages to avoid both issues and create an environment that feels much brighter and larger than it actually is. The stonework helps ground the structure without making the building feel oppressively low and heavy, and the emphasis on natural and local materials makes Taliesin West seem more than just a building in the landscape. Wright loved to employ his signature Cherokee red in his buildings, but in Taliesin West he also added touches of cobalt in the chairs, and the combination works beautifully.

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Drafting Taliesin West

 

Below is a plan drawing of Taliesin West. This drawing makes it clear that Taliesin is not one single building, but a collection of smaller buildings, each with their own purpose. This design makes sense given the many purposes that Taliesin West served, from a private residence and studio to an architecture school.
5929-888888_1305704426-07This set of measured elevations gives a clearer impression of Wright’s philosophy for the building design. In many of his works Wright emphasized nature and horizontal movement, and in particular Taliesin West was designed specifically to emulate “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, the chameleon, and the saguaro, cholla or staghorn – or is it the other way around—are inspiration enough.”

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Basics on Taliesin West

Taliesin West was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright as a second residence and architecture studio for himself and his students. It is located in Scottsdale, Arizona, at the base of the McDowell mountains in the Sonoran desert. Construction lasted from 1937 to 1959, since Wright was constantly altering and improving his design. Taliesin West still functions as a school, and has been nominated for a place on the World Heritage List. In addition, it hosts tours, classes, and lectures.