July 25, 2007 11:36 AM PDT
Frank Lloyd Wright's spirit lives on at Taliesin West
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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.
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.
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