Frank Lloyd Wright and Taliesin West
In the northeast of Scottsdale, Arizona, there is a living memorial to great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Nestled in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains and surrounded by the spectacular Sonoran Desert lays a sprawling 600-acre complex called Taliesin West (pronounced: tal-ee-ess-in), designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright. The buildings and landscape of this National Historic Landmark coexist in harmony, blending form and color, beauty and grace, nature and science.
Frank Lloyd Wright was born in 1867. He grew up in rural Wisconsin, where he was taught the virtue of hard work and acquired a love of the landscape. At the age of 18, he entered university to study civil engineering, and, shortly thereafter, he began his career in architecture. As an architect, he became known as a revolutionary and a nonconformist. He despised what he called the stale, backward-looking ideas of his peers who were designing architecture based on the Greek, Roman, Gothic, and Tudor models instead of creating a new, vibrant American landscape. He longed to be freed from the limits of existing material and designs. In his various writings, he described "organic architecture" with site-specific construction where "form and function were one." He set forth the principles of the Prairie House with open expanses and limited subdivisions, which he referred to as "boxes." While his architectural principles gained him fame overseas, Frank Lloyd Wright was not always appreciated at home, where he was often ridiculed. Eventually, the number of his followers grew.
Factoid: Frank Lloyd Wright visited Arizona for the first time in 1927. He often stayed at a temporary camp near Chandler.
Why Did He Build Taliesin West?
Taliesin I was built in 1911 in Wisconsin. The word Taliesin means "a shining brow," perhaps alluding to the scenic location and vista. It was built to be a home, a workplace, and a school and cultural center for Wright's students. Wright designed it all, to the last piece of furniture. In 1914, it suffered severe fire damage. Taliesin II was soon built on the same spot, but it was also damaged by fire and again rebuilt as Taliesin III.
In 1927, architect Albert Chase McArthur (a former student of Wright’s) asked Wright to help him with the projected construction of the Arizona Biltmore Hotel. Wright accepted, came to Phoenix, and presented plans based on his unusual architectural principles. There was opposition to the unique design and some compromises were made. Known today as The Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, the award-winning property describes itself as “the only existing hotel in the world with a Frank Lloyd Wright-influenced design.”
Now introduced to the Arizona landscape, the master and his disciples planned and built Taliesin West. Indigenous materials were used throughout, and Wright's students built it, basically by hand.
Visitors to Taliesin West are struck by the expanse of the site and the intricate structures built of massive walls fashioned of desert rock embedded in masonry, topped with canvas flaps for ceilings affixed to redwood beams. The structures at Taliesin West are sort of tents-yet-not-tents by virtue of their weight and permanence. The units that comprise it are arranged at various distances and angles connected by terraces, lawns, pools, and stairways.
Of Taliesin West, Wright wrote, “Our new desert camp belonged to the Arizona desert as though it had stood there during creation.”
Factoid: Frank Lloyd Wright was 70 years old in 1937 when he decided to build his winter residence in an undeveloped portion of the Scottsdale desert with a view of the valley.
Frank Lloyd Wright in Arizona
Wright founded the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture in 1932 to teach his theories and practices to young men and women. Subsequently, he decided that he needed a camp to escape the harsh Wisconsin winters. Five years later the seventy-year-old architect returned to Arizona and purchased the land upon which he built Taliesin West.
It turned out to be much more than the winter camp for which it was intended. In the course of the next 22 years until his death in 1959, Frank Lloyd Wright was awarded, rewarded, decorated, and celebrated here and abroad. He was a prolific writer, inventor, world traveler, and, of course, architect.
Over the course of the time that Frank Lloyd Wright spent in Arizona, he designed and built many projects, including some in the Phoenix area. They include the inspiring Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium -- now referred to as A.S.U. Gammage -- on the campus of Arizona State University. The building was completed posthumously.
Factoid: Frank Lloyd Wright designed many homes and buildings in Arizona, but most of them were never built.
A guided tour is the only way visitors can see the Taliesin West complex, which includes The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation (fundraising), The Frank Lloyd Wright Memorial Foundation (archives), The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, and Wright's home. The Taliesin Association of Artists, a group of architects dedicated to the spirit of the founder, is also on site at Taliesin West.
Taliesin West offers several tours of the buildings:
- Panorama Tour: 1 hour. Visit the Cabaret Theater, Music Pavilion, Kiva, Wright’s private office, outdoor spaces, terraces, gardens, and walkways. Year-round.
- The Insights Tour: 90 minutes. Same as the Panorama Tour, plus Frank Lloyd Wright's living quarters. Year-round.
- Behind-the-Scenes: 3 hours. An in-depth look at Taliesin West. It's the Insights Tour but with the opportunity to talk to Wright associates. Architecture enthusiasts especially enjoy this tour. Year-round.
- Desert Walk: 90 minutes. Guided desert nature walk at Taliesin West with an in-depth description of native materials found on the site and used by Wright. November through April only.
- Desert/Insights Tour: A combination tour offered November through April.
- Night Lights in the Desert: 2 hours. Includes everything on the Insights Tour but seen through the different perspective of twilight. Light refreshments. February, March, April, May, October, November. In December, the Night Lights Tour goes festive for the holidays, with music and light holiday refreshments.
Factoid: Taliesin West sits on 640 acres and has more than 150,000 visitors every year.
The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture offers academically and professionally accredited undergraduate and graduate degrees. Its students and faculty work here year-round.
Also on this property, The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives is "the largest and most complete collection of materials related to a single artist housed under one roof anywhere in the world."
From time to time, special events will be hosted by Taliesin West as "The primary objective of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation’s Arts & Culture Program is to offer the public various performances, exhibitions, and workshops in the area of arts and culture. The program serves to heighten public awareness of Taliesin as a National Historic Landmark and draws attention to the historical intersection of architecture, arts, and agriculture unique to the Taliesin campus."
Arrangements for corporate functions may be made, but Taliesin West does not rent facilities for political or activist events or for religious ceremonies.
Factoid: The Frank Lloyd Wright Archives contains 22,000 original drawings and other documents as well as 400,000 other artifacts.
Tips for Visiting
Here are some things you should know before you take a tour:
- People are not permitted to wander on their own. You must enroll in a guided tour.
- You can sign up for a tour in the gift shop, but advance reservations are recommended.
- Several of the tours take place all year long, including during the summer months. The tours vary as to how much outdoor activity there is, but it is advisable to carry a bottle of water with you no matter which tour you decide to take and no matter what time of year. There are no refreshment stops during the tours.
- You may take pictures at Taliesin West but not in the gift shop.
- We don't recommend the tours for young children; there are no activities for them.
- There is no charge if you just want to visit the Book Store. It is one of the best, most unique gift shops in the Valley of the Sun!
Factoid: Taliesin West was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1982.
Address and Directions
Taliesin West is the Arizona home of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Its city of residence, Scottsdale, is located east of Phoenix, Arizona. The entrance to Taliesin West is located at the intersection of Cactus Road and Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard (the equivalent of 114th Street) in northeast Scottsdale.
Taliesin West Address:
12621 N. Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd.
Scottsdale, AZ 85259
Parking is free. Discounts for seniors, active military, students, and youth are available for most tours.
Entrance to the book store/gift shop is free. Taliesin West is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.
Directions: From The Loop 101 (Pima Loop) in Scottsdale, exit at Cactus Road and travel east to Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd. Cross over Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd which becomes Taliesin Drive. Follow that road to Taliesin West.