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Travel Dispatches: Taliesen West

Travel Dispatches: Taliesen West

A chance meeting over lunch resulted in a recommendation, so I spent the day after the Tucson Gem Show at Frank Loyd Wright’s Taliesen West, a UNESCO World Heritage Site nestled in the foothills of Scottsdale, Arizona. Taliesen means 'Radiant Brow' in Welsh, and the main profile of the house was conceived to look like the jutting prow of a ship, with the desert landscape flung out below as the bottom of the ocean. I knew nothing of FLW when I arrived, and left rather impressed. The desert landscape feels vast & infinite here.





FLW acquired this parcel of land entirely undeveloped in 1937. He conceived of it as not just his winter home, but also a FLW community center, and the scale of it makes this rather apparent.

A bust of FLW by one of his students, set on a fluorite base.  

This was the largest drawing room in the house, which also featured a isosceles right-angle triangular-shaped pool. The origami chairs by the fireplace and the sunscreen below also feature triangles. I imagine FLW would have loved 3D printing because it's largely triangle tesselations. 

Now take a moment and consider that it was a veritable revolving army of FLW students and apprentices who built TW. The plumbing, the walls, canvas roofs were all built by his students and apprentices. The drafting room looked like an architect factory. While I would have jumped at the chance at such a learning experience as an architectural student and/or acolyte, the older, more circumspect part of me wonders about conditions around health, hygiene and safety. But I certainly agree that learning by doing is the richest & most rewarding learning experience.

Here, FLW has leveraged natural cross-ventilation to create airflow through the passage. The home was not about taming nature or conquering the desert, but of living with it. He also incorporated first nations architectural principles, such as a kiva, on the property. A large, circular, sunken room carved into the landscape, it has traditionally been used by the Pueblo peoples as a spiritual center. The kiva at TW was used for not just for meetings, but stayed naturally cool and also functioned as a storage room when TW closed for the season.

The interiors, such as this fireplace, and petrified wood accents create a harmony with the desert. FLW coined the term organic architecture, and was a man far ahead of his time. 


Did I mention the man loved chinoiserie? It was scattered all over the place. Whew.

The FLW logo is a stylized petroglyph found on one of the rocks at Taliesen West. There are petroglyphs preserved throughout the property.


The cabaret room. Yes, that's right. It was giving Mad Men.

Erryday I'm mushroom hunting, and Taliesen West was no exception:-) 

As I step into the second half of my career, I'm thinking about how to scale Golconda. Taliesen West was inspiring in its scale and scope. What a big dream. [I am certain he was likely also a megalomaniacal man, but that is a story which falls beyond the scope of this blog post;-] I am so grateful he shared his dream.

Taliesen West is starkly beautiful and well worth a visit. Reservations are recommended, and help keep the experience intimate within the seemingly endless desert landscape. Both the community-based architectural scale and the tailored nature of the experience have made a deep impression upon me. How to live fully and leave an enduring legacy? That is the work. 

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