Arizona: Taliesin West Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Taliesin West was the winter home, and later permanent home, office, and architectural campus of Frank Lloyd Wright, considered by many to have been the greatest architect of the twentieth century. Today it serves as residence and headquarters of seventy professional architects and apprentices who are following in Wright’s tradition. The collection of modernistic buildings, designed for living, working, teaching, assemblies, and recreation, comprises outstanding examples of Wright’s innovative approach to architecture, art, and interior design.

Site Office

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Taliesin West

Scottsdale, AZ 85261-4430

ph.: (480) 860-2700

fax: (480) 391-4009

Web site: www.franklloydwright.org

Taliesin (pronounced TAH-lee EH-sen) West is a living memorial to Frank Lloyd Wright (1869-1959), the great American architect whose genius revolutionized residential, commercial, and institutional buildings worldwide. The most striking feature is that it was built out of the stones, sand, and other materials taken directly from the site; it is a prime example of Wright’s architectural design concept that a structure should seem a natural part of its setting. The complex serves as a living, working, educational facility with an on-site architectural firm that has a distinguished worldwide reputation for creations following in the Frank Lloyd Wright tradition.

A Biography of Wright

Over a period of seventy years, Frank Lloyd Wright created designs for buildings and furnishings which revolutionized twentieth century architecture. During this time, he authored sixteen books and numerous magazine articles.

Wright was born in Wisconsin on June 8, 1867, just two years after the end of the Civil War. In 1887, after attending the University of Wisconsin in Madison for only a few semesters, he moved to Chicago and worked directly under the distinguished architect Louis Sullivan for seven years. In 1893, Wright set up his own practice in his home in Oak Park, Illinois. He became one of the leading members of the Prairie School of architects, who were creating distinctively American homes and deliberately departing from the ornate, “gingerbread” Victorian tradition. By this time, Wright had formulated his highly individualistic credo, expressed in the following quotation:

Down all the avenues of time architecture was an enclosure by nature, and the simplest form of enclosure was the box. The box was ornamented, they put columns in front of it, pilasters and cornices on it, but they always considered an enclosure in terms of the box. Now when Democracy became an establishment, as it is in America, that box-idea began to be irksome. As a young architect, I began to feel annoyed, held back, imposed upon by this sense of enclosure which you went into and there you were–boxed, crated. I tried to find out what was happening to me: I was the free son of a free people and I wanted to be free. I had to find out what was the cause of this imprisonment. So I began to investigate.

Wright’s first revolutionary masterpiece was the Winslow House (1893). Other early creations, including the Robie House and Unity Temple in Oak Park and the Larkin Building in Buffalo, New York, had a profound influence on modern architecture.

Wright was married three times. In 1911, he built his first permanent home in Wisconsin and called it Taliesin, which means “shining brow” in Welsh. It is an excellent example of the integration of architecture and landscape.

Wright’s modernistic ideas appealed to a minority and offended many. He endured many years of financial hardship before achieving the recognition he deserved. He never compromised his principles. His strength of character and dedication to his profession, along with his creative genius, are the theme and thesis of his long life.

During the 1920’s, Wright was commissioned to design such modern masterpieces as the Midway Gardens in Chicago and the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. In 1932, at the age of sixty-five, Wright founded an apprenticeship program called the Taliesin Fellowship. The program continues to this day as the accredited Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture and maintains campuses at the original Taliesin and at Taliesin West. In 1936, he received two of the most important commissions of his career: the Johnson Wax Administration Building in Racine, Wisconsin, and the famous Kaufman house, built over a waterfall in Pennsylvania. These made him world famous and are the works most frequently appearing in photographs to illustrate books and articles about him.

Wright started building Taliesin West in 1937 as a winter home for himself and his third wife, Olgivanna Lazovich. The complex of impressive buildings wedded to the desert landscape is considered one of his greatest masterpieces. It remained in a constant state of evolution as Wright experimented with various materials and designs throughout the ensuing years. Some of his best-known later works included the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and the bold, functional, and highly controversial Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan.

At the end of his life, Wright had more commissions than he could handle, and he delegated much of the work to the assistants who lived and worked at Taliesin West. Wright died in Arizona on April 9, 1959, at the age of ninety-one. By then, he had designed 1,191 works, including buildings, furniture, lamps, fabrics, carpets, china, silver, and graphic designs. More than five hundred of his buildings had actually been erected.

The Founding of Taliesin West

Taliesin West was created “out of the desert,” in accordance with Wright’s principle of wedding the structure to the setting. Wright and his apprentices gathered rocks from the desert floor and sand from the washes to build a winter home, studio, and architectural campus. Wright proudly proclaimed: “Our new desert camp belonged to the Arizona desert as though it had stood there during creation.”

Taliesin West includes a Cabaret Theater, a Pavilion Theater for the performing arts, a large drafting studio, Wright’s former architectural office, the Kiva conference room, a workshop, and residences for the apprentices and staff of the School of Architecture. The living room, called the Garden Room, is the central showplace. Experimental residences, some very small and temporary, have been built by apprentices in the desert surrounding the complex.

Taliesin West is now the national headquarters for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which owns and operates Taliesin West; Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin; The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, which uses both places as its campus; and The Frank Lloyd Wright Archives.

The Frank Lloyd Archives

The most comprehensive collection of Wright’s work is preserved at Taliesin West. Included in the archives are twenty-two thousand original Wright drawings; Wright’s correspondence file from 1887 to 1959; Wright’s manuscripts, published and unpublished, from 1894 to 1959; seventeen thousand historic photographs dating back to 1893; more than seven hundred Japanese prints, ninety Japanese embroideries and textiles, fifty-five Japanese and Chinese folding screens, kakemonos (scrolls), and Asian paintings; Occidental art collections, including prints, lithographs, wood engravings, and etchings; films and interviews of Wright; and thousands of books, periodicals, journals, and other publications on Wright and his work.

To expand public access, the foundation has added research study space in recent years. The goal of the archives is to preserve the materials, making them available for study and research by photographic and electronic means in order to ensure preservation of the originals.

Guided Tours of Taliesin West

Every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., there is a one-hour Panorama Tour. Tours begin at least every half hour, and more often during the peak season in January through April. The fee covers the Cabaret Cinema, Music Pavilion, Seminar Theater, and Wright’s private office, plus most terraces, gardens, and walkways overlooking the desert and valley. Every day at 9:00 a.m., 9:30 a.m., and 4:15 p.m., there is a ninety-minute Insights Tour. It includes elements of the Panorama Tour, and visitors can also sit in Wright-designed furniture in Wright’s spectacular 56-foot-long by 34-foot-wide Garden Room. The three-hour Behind the Scenes Tour is offered on Tuesday and Thursday mornings beginning at 9 a.m. It includes all the spots on the Insights Tour plus refreshments in the Taliesin Fellowship dining room and a walk to the Sun Cottage or another unique desert site. This is the most comprehensive tour of Taliesin West.

The ninety-minute Desert Walk occurs everyday from October 15 through April 15 at 11:15 a.m. This is a guided tour through the desert trails surrounding the Taliesin West buildings. It provides frequent sightings of javelina, tortoises, rattlesnakes, coyotes, and other wildlife. The Desert Walk may be combined with other tours for discounted admissions. In the two-hour Apprentice “Shelter” Tour, Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture apprentices show visitors their own self-designed and personally constructed desert dwellings. This tour also includes elements of the Desert Walk Tour.

The Night Lights on the Desert Tour is given Friday evenings only from April 16 through the summer months at 7:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. This tour includes everything on the Insights Tour plus light refreshments. It offers an opportunity to see Wright’s masterpiece in a lighted nighttime setting.

Visitors should check in advance because tours and times offered may change and may vary with the seasons.

Other Places to Visit

Two Frank Lloyd Wright sites open to the public in Arizona within easy driving distance of Taliesin West are the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Villas, at 24th Street and Missouri Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85016, at (602) 955-6600; and the Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium, at the Arizona State University Campus, Gammage Parkway and Apache Boulevard, Tempe, AZ 85287, at (602) 965-4050.

Many people from all over the world make pilgrimages to Frank Lloyd Wright sites from California to New York. These include such famous buildings as the Guggenheim Museum in New York City; the Johnson Wax Administration Building in Racine, Wisconsin; Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania; and Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois. A complete list of sites that are open to the public can be obtained from the Taliesin West site office.

For Further Information
  • Heinz, Thomas A. The West. Vol. 3 in Frank Lloyd Wright Field Guide. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1999. Heinz, a Wright scholar and author of several other books on the architect, provides an illustrated overview of two hundred Wright buildings in the western United States, Central America, Japan, South Asia, and the Middle East.
  • Legler, Dixie. Frank Lloyd Wright: The Western Work. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1999. Features twenty-three Wright designs in Washington, Oregon, Utah, Idaho, New Mexico, Arizona, Montana, and Wyoming in color photographs and archival images.
  • _______. Prairie Style: Houses and Gardens by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1999. Depicts three dozen homes, gardens, and communities in more than two hundred full-color photographs. The text tells the history of the revolt of Wright and other members of the Prairie School against the “fussiness” of Victorian architectural concepts.
  • Marty, Myron A., and Shirley L. Marty. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship. Kirksville, Mo.: Truman State University Press, 1999. In 1932, Wright and his third wife, Olgivanna, created the Taliesin Fellowship as an apprenticeship program to train young architects. This book tells the entire story of this unique institution.
  • Pfeiffer, Bruce Brooks. Treasures of Taliesin: Seventy-six Unbuilt Designs. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985. Contains 106 drawings of seventy-six designs from the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives at Taliesin, providing an idea of the riches of these archives and incredible scope of Wright’s creative imagination.
  • Satler, Gail. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Living Space. De Kalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1999. A sociological analysis of Wright’s architecture that examines the interaction between people and the spaces they create. Focuses on the Larkin Building (1904) and Unity Temple (1907).
  • Smith, Kathryn. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin and Taliesin West. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1997. Studies of Wright’s homes in Spring Green, Wisconsin, and in Arizona. Beautifully illustrated with photographs by Judith Bromley. Useful bibliographical references and index.
  • Wright, Frank Lloyd. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Collected Writings. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer. New York: Rizzoli, 1992. A comprehensive collection of Wright’s writings published throughout his lifetime. Volume 2 includes a reprint of his autobiography.
Categories: History Content