Taliesin West: A First-Timer's View

Taliesin West drafting studio
The drafting studio at Taliesin West in Scottsdale. More photos are at the bottom of this blog post. | Noah Austin

Frank Lloyd Wright was a titan of architecture, and hundreds of his iconic buildings can be found in Arizona and elsewhere. I've now lived in the Phoenix area for more than half my life, but until recently, I hadn't visited Wright's best-known contribution to the state: Taliesin West, his winter headquarters in North Scottsdale.

That changed this month, when my wife and I attended Taliesin West's Discovery Day, a free event that coincided with what would have been Wright's 152nd birthday. Members of the public were invited to take a self-guided tour around the property and learn about the legendary architect's time there.

One of the first things I noticed, as a 6-foot-2 person, was the low ceilings and doorways. Wright stood about 5-foot-7 and seemingly designed his buildings accordingly. As Arizona Highways contributor Lawrence Cheek, who wrote the feature stories for our July issue, puts it: "Wright had a bit of a complex about tall people, probably because he was short himself and, being such an egotist, thought the world should properly be proportioned to suit him. When he walked into a room where his 6-foot-4 associate William Wesley Peters happened to be standing, he’d always say, 'Sit down, Wes, you’re spoiling the scale.'”

But Taliesin West is undeniably beautiful, evoking the feeling that it was literally carved into, rather than from, the landscape. Its walls are made from locally quarried rocks that were stacked into wooden forms, which then were filled with concrete. Wright's students constructed the buildings at the site; one of the most notable is the below-ground theater, where The Wizard of Oz was playing when we visited. The room's acoustics are so good that faint whispers at the front of the theater can be heard from the back row.

Today, Taliesin West is the headquarters of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the winter home of the School of Architecture at Taliesin, which offers an accredited master of architecture degree. I'm definitely going to come back and take an official tour someday.

If you'd like to learn more about Wright and other aspects of Arizona architecture, pick up a copy of our July issue, which is on newsstands now.

— Noah Austin, Managing Editor

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