“Use your points and book a flight and I’ll take care of the rest. We can visit the Frank Lloyd Wright house there. Taliesin West.”
OMG YES. OK DONE. I had my flights booked 10 minutes after this conversation for 2 days later.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I adore Frank Lloyd Wright. His designs speak to me with his eccentric focus on details, fluid incorporation of nature in designs and how everything implemented is so purposeful. In modern terms they call him an Eco Visionary. He was always revisiting his designs over and over trying to improve the flow and system, I do this a lot with how I organize my home and I feel akin to others that also do this. Wright designs first caught my eye when I spied the Guggenheim circa 1997 when it was featured in the first of the Men in Black series. Chalking this up to another love at first sight situation. Man, I get this feeling a lot, but is it really so bad that I fall in love with something everyday? I have a lot of love to give and besides it makes life more fun this way.
About 7 years ago I started visiting some of his works on my random days off. The idea of a spontaneous weekend trip to go see another one of his designs and his winter home versus another one of his commissioned projects gave me goosebumps.
Morning of we grab a Uber. Taliesin West is about a 20 minute car ride and is Northeast from Downtown Scottsdale where we were staying. As with all car rides I was lulled into sweet slumber on the way there. We head into the McDowell Mountains to a private road that just looks so quintessential Arizona with all sorts of cacti, tumbleweeds and dry brush. It not just kind of magical, it is magical.
We head into the gift shop to get our tickets that were pre-purchased online. I am practically skipping around the aisles looking at all the goods, as the Gugg had nothing on this selection of FLW specifically designed items. Spot the book I’ve had on my Amazon wishlist for maybe 3 years, but haven’t been willing to pull the trigger on. I won’t buy it here however, I don’t want to lug it home.
Shortly after our tour is ready to start and we head outside and meet our guide. I go into complete fangirl spazz photo mode looking at the lines of the structure, how it faces the the sunset and the natural building supplies used for the construction. I am mesmerized by the parking lot secretly, as it faces the sun and the American flag off in the distance. This is Murica.
Taliesin was created as a school of architecture and all the students had lugged the building supplies across the dessert as well as hieroglyphs that live on the property. Now hauling hieroglyphs from their found location is highly illegal. So I guess I can’t pack this rock in my luggage as a souvenir? Anyone know?
At the front of where we enter is an asian sculpture that Wright picked up at discount in San Francisco as it was partially broken. He was interested in Asian art, but only wanted it at a bargain. In my head I cheered, “Wright was ‘the value’, I may love him more now than ever.”
The first room we enter into is his office. The door is geometric and 6-sided like many of his designs. The clean asymmetry sings to me on another octave, maybe only audible by dogs. The room is slanted and was once open air without windows, except for all the critters that would enter in the night and bother Wright’s 3rd wife. We sit around a large table, undoubtably where designs were shared. On the main table was a design for the Arizona State Capital in 1957. Alas this structure was too modern for the times and never built. Our guide explains the room and the tent like designs, how the redwood that was original used for the roof beams had to be replaced. I waited until everyone departed the room so I could get some additional shots.
Next we went back outside to the front of the building. Earlier from the side which we entered you really couldn’t get a good idea of the majesty and grandeur of the building but from the front you can breathe it all in. A flock of quails partied on the lawn and I imagined the parties that were held here.
Next we enter in the Garden Room which is riddled with glass windows. Again this was a room that previously was open air, but soon was replaced with glass for practicality. The greatest thing about this room was the story of the vase. Contractors had asked him to move the vase so that they could install the glass, but Wright insisted that the vase was exactly where it belonged and they needed to build around it.
The rest of the room was filled with long benches and a collection of orange stools and his wing back chairs. My booty gravitated immediately to the wing back chair and plopped itself down. Mmmm… comfy. Also in this room was a grand piano as Wright loved music and the classics, he of course had a Steinway. This room was where he would host a lot of his parties and he was friends with a plethora of celebrities of this era including John Wayne. Again I’m hanging back so I can take more photos.
We then visit the living quarters for the Wrights. Frank and his 3rd wife Olgivanna had separate bedrooms as Frank had a tendency to wake up after only 4 hours of sleep to sketch designs and would offset this behavior with naps. Hrm this behavior sounds super familiar. The genius in Frank’s room however was that he had two beds, a napping bed and a sleeping bed. Whenever he was in the sleeping bed people were not allowed to wake him. At this part of the story I really lusted for a napping bed. Close by to his bed was a tiny desk to which he’d work out nightly inspirations.
His bathroom was also unique in that it was entirely comprised of brushed aluminum. Mmmm… aluminum is clean and brushed is even better so that it won’t retain fingerprints. Hotness. There was no good way for me to take a photo in here, so I tried selfies.
I’m the last one to leave this space again, and I apologize to our guide, after all at Hobbiton earlier this year this behavior would not be tolerated by our guide, but here she smiles and says “By all means, I mentioned at the beginning that you all should to take as many photos as you’d like.” In my head… 3 words sweetly sung out to this lady “I love you”.
We wander past the 6 sided geometric pool and head into the Kiva, which is a small room used for showing old western movies. In this room Wright played with different types of lighting: recessed, wall, and pendant. On some of the walls were different designs that current students of the architecture school were working on. One of their first projects when they move to Taliesin is to design their own living quarters that are free from electricity and water. On other walls there were images of construction of the building itself.
Next we peak into the design studio with active student assignments. The workspace is kind of dreamy open air that you’d find in a Marcom group, except when you are seated in a chair in the studio you can look straight out to see the beautiful landscape and the sun that was setting. Briefly have a fantasy about becoming an architect but am reminded about all the work my freshman roommate and Evan had to do, and the job world is unstable once you graduate. I’m nothing if not practical.
Near the end of the tour we enter the Caberet Theater and the tall bespectacled man about my age on our tour waits just short of the doorway to turn to me and point out how the baby grand piano with top up is perfectly recessed into the wall.
Him: Look, he…
Me: (I cut him off before he can finish) I know right? He totally would…
I don’t need to finish my sentence either as we beam at each other with knowing smiles. Now that’s one of my favorite feelings, geeking out with a stranger over a hobby we share.
We all sat down in each a row of benches that had several tables with a fold out wing for snacks. The benches were slightly sloped as Wright was right handed. They were designed so that your right arm would rest perfectly a top the bench without any strain. Genius. The Caberet Theater is a 6 sided room with no perpendicular walls. This assured that there would be no echoing of sound in the room and created nearly perfect acoustics. To demonstrate this our guide pulled out a music box and wound it in the air. We were sitting near the back and I couldn’t make out any music at all as it played. Then she wound the box again and placed it on a hard wood surface and then the room filled with song. Dreamy. I’m the last to leave this room as well.
Next we end up outside peaking in to the dining room. It’s set up for an graduation event and thus we can’t go in. Part of being a student at Taliesin required that the students learn etiquette and manners, thus requiring all students bring proper dinner party decor where they would hold conversation with people from all walks of life as well as being rugged enough to camp on the premises and get dirty lugging materials around. Wright seemed to be creating a utopian bohemian society under his own design influenced and posh loving ways.
Walking back to where we entered Taliesin West we end up at what has been dubbed “The Fountain of Youth.” A lot of the original residents of Wright’s school are still living on the premises and are about 90 years old. The urban legend is that those drinking the water from the property live a long long time. I had to hold myself back from emptying out my water bottle, filling it with fountain water and chugging all the waters.
The tour comes full circle and ends back where it begins, in the gift shop. I spend some time again trying to figure out what I should get as the perfect memento to take back home. Alas they do not have trucker caps here as they do in Costa Rica, instead their walls are adorned with regular old baseball caps, but that doesn’t feel right. Instead I settle on plain white coasters with some of his geometric designs on them. I would have gotten something with a Wright quote on them as I adore his view of the world, but the designs of the mugs, posters and other items were so hideous I just couldn’t.
Taliesin West, you’re a gem. I’m so glad to have visited. We left just as the sun was setting and coyotes began strolling around the property.
Falling Water… I will see you soon. Apparently Dana’s parents live near there and it was said that I could stay with them and they’d take me for a visit since they do that with all visitors. I’m sure this was said in jest, but I am going to totally do this… maybe ^_^