July 25, 2007 11:36 AM PDT

Frank Lloyd Wright's spirit lives on at Taliesin West

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.--I'm not an architect or an architecture student, but I'm intimidated.

I'm here at Taliesin West, uberarchitect Frank Lloyd Wright's Arizona home and school, and now home to the foundation bearing his name.

And the place is such an aesthetic, engineering and living beauty that I don't quite know how to behave.

I've come here for one of the afternoon tours, a 90-minute affair that fills the mind, eyes and body with a kind of wonder, a feeling of "I'm not worthy" and a wish to live in a place like this.

Taliesin West is another stop on my Road Trip 2007 around the Southwest, and having just come from sites like the Meteor Crater, Grand Canyon Skywalk and Hoover Dam, it was going to take a lot to impress me. And Taliesin West doesn't disappoint.

Taliesin West

For Wright, the word "taliesin," which is Welsh for "shining brow," is almost sacred. He built his western estate--he had a sister facility in Wisconsin--on the brow of a hill overlooking what would one day become Scottsdale, in such a way that it can't be seen from below, but affords unlimited views.

Wright began construction of the facility in 1937, when he was 70 years old and, many thought, washed up.

But his professional output only grew after moving in. He went on to produce endless additional buildings around the globe, astounding the architectural world and becoming one of the only, if not the only, architect to have a flourishing career both before and after World War II.

Wright died in 1959, at 92, leaving behind a legacy of architectural supremacy that some feel is still alive today. That's in large part because his school--the smallest architecture school in the country--still accepts students, offering both bachelor's and master's degrees. Also a factor is that so many of his inventions and innovations are considered standards today.

A full list of such inventions would probably take too long, but a short tally of some of the best includes metal furniture, recessed lighting, track lighting, glass doors, upright urinals, in-floor lighting and path lighting.

Additionally, he based his structural philosophy--making a sort of cage of rebar and wrapping cement around it--on a type of cactus found in Arizona that has a similar form. In his time, it was thought such a structure would never hold the weight of a building. Today, this technique is used worldwide.

For Wright, canvas ceilings were vital because of the way they allowed in the appropriate amount of light during the day without requiring heavy electricity use or casting the kinds of shadows that make it hard to do architectural drawings.

That's why nearly every room at Taliesin West has canvas ceilings, and though that's counter-intuitive, I was a quick convert. It makes a room feel comfortable, airy, not too bright and entirely usable.

This probably wouldn't work in cities where it is frequently cold, but then again, who knows?

In keeping with a philosophy of organic design in which Wright felt construction should be done using local materials, Taliesin West's major structural material is quartzite. Everywhere you look are large blocks of it, which, legend has it, the architect's apprentices would have to carry by hand to wherever they were needed.

The next most important material used here is cement, which he mixed in a 1:10 ratio with sand. Then, he used rough-sawn redwood because it was cheap, but sturdy, an important characteristic during the Depression when Taliesin West was built.

CONTINUED: Form and function are one…
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4 comments

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Indeed !
I've had the privilege of touring TW twice; the second time (because no one else was available) guided by a staff architect who had worked with Mr. Wright (as he insisted on calling him) personally. Wonderful indeed.

I live in Minnesota, so aside from a few houses, the closest (big) building is in Madison Wisconsin - The Monona Terrace. I had to beg the rest of the family to stop, but once inside they were amazed that a building could feel so comfortable. We all loved it!
Posted by BigBopperII (3 comments )
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Not the closest
Actually, the closest FLLW building to you, from Minnesota, would have been TALIESIN. FLLW build Taliesin in 1911, and lived in and worked on it for the rest of his life. It is located 35 miles WEST of Madison, in Spring Green WI. While Monona Terrace is great and all, if you want to see what FLLW was really about, you need to visit his home, Taliesin, the only place on earth where he could--and did--do whatever he wanted architecturally.
Posted by casaelmilagro (1 comment )
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Taliesin school's death grip on Wright's genius
Those of us inspired by Wright's work find, alas, that instead of
producing a continuous line of bright and inspired young
architects injecting Wright's genius into the cold Modernist
world the school of architecture at Taliesin has instead produced
just a half-dozen aging, cranky, secretive architects who resent
any attempt by the larger world to copy or emulate Wright's
work. Understanding Wright's thinking on a practical level is
best achieved by reading Sarah Susankah's various books, where
the thought process behind the use of space is broken down in
simple terms. And don't even think of building a copy of one of
Wright's houses for yourself, because the high priests of Taliesin
hold the rights to all the designs and only dole them out to the
wealthy and the worshippers...
Posted by Razzl (1318 comments )
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Yep you have to pay to enter the park but they have free trams that take you around the park to different lookouts and all of these are free after you enter the park. So you do not have to buy a tour package if you just want to look at the canyon and take some pictures. Unless you are planning on spending a lot of time there I would suggest just taking your own personal tour of the canyon. http://explorearizonatours.com/grandcanyon.php
Posted by ceejay2005 (5 comments )
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