A sketch of the exterior of Taliesin West. This view is of the Garden Room, one of the most famous parts of the building.
For this drawing I chose to primarily focus on the stonework, one of the trademarks of 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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
This 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.”
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.