A Guide to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Studios Part 2: Taliesin West

While Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin was the first of his residences and studios, Taliesin West, a monumental exploration of Wright’s unique approach to organic architecture, is arguably Wright’s most intimate creation. 

Following the completion of Taliesin, where Wright lived and worked for nearly 30 years, the famed architect became interested in relocating to a warmer climate. In 1935, he purchased 495 acres of stunning Sonoran Desert below McDowell Mountain just outside of Scottsdale. Taliesin West brought extraordinary life to Arizona’s then-desolate desert, and, after nearly nine decades, the complex continues to advance Wright’s legacy and his iconic designs. 

Similar to Taliesin, Taliesin West drew great inspiration from its brilliant surroundings. While working with a group of apprentices throughout the construction process, Wright took advantage of the unique materials found in the surrounding landscapes. Using a mixture of local rocks, cement and desert sand, Wright and his team created, often by hand, what many describe as “desert masonry” to help structure the campus.

The complex is situated with various unique architectural elements that accentuate its deep-rooted connection to nature. Translucent canvas (now plastic) once covered the roof of many rooms within Taliesin West, creating an illusory linkage to the warm outdoors. Other features include lofty redwood beams accenting the building’s cold structure. 

Throughout Wright’s life, the campus served as both a winter home and a desert studio. While Taliesin West never experienced any misfortunes, unlike its sibling complex Taliesin, the space did experience numerous renovations throughout the period from 1937 to 1959 when Wright lived and worked there. Some of the renovations included the addition of a drafting studio, dining hall,  workshop, three theaters, Wright’s office and living quarters, and the residences for his apprentices and staff. Various decorative walkways, gardens, terraces, and pools acted as both luxuries to the property and connections to each larger structure. 

Taliesin West interior
The Garden Room found inside of Taliesin West, Courtesy of Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Today,Taliesin West serves as the headquarters for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and, until 2020, was the winter home for The School of Architecture at Taliesin. The inspiring architecture was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1974, was recognized as a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1982 and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019.

Found just a short drive from the heart of Scottsdale, Taliesin West offers the perfect trip for anyone seeking to explore one of Arizona’s most exciting works of architecture. The complex hosts a variety of events and programs throughout the year and presents visitors with numerous tours that can be discovered on their website here.  

The Legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright

Modernism wouldn’t be the discipline it is today without the greats that defined it. A name well-known throughout the world, Frank Lloyd Wright is heralded as the “greatest American architect of all time” by the American Institute of Architects. His contributions to architecture have touched all of us at Optima and countless others, leaving behind a monumental legacy.

The Life of Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright was born in Richard Center, Wisconsin on June 8, 1867 to a preacher father and teacher mother. His young life was spent travelling for his father’s ministry position, and his parents’ divorce when he was 18 set his family back even further financially. To help out, Wright worked at the same university at which he was studying: University of Wisconsin. Despite his commitment to his family, Wright’s dream of becoming an architect pulled him away from school when he left Madison two years later to move to Chicago.

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, 1967. Credit: Philip Turner, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, ILL,16-OAKPA,5-2. Image is in the public domain.

In Chicago, Wright tried working for two different firms before landing at Adler and Sullivan, where he worked under Modernist master Louis Sullivan for six years. At 22, Wright married Catherine Lee Tobin and entered into a five-year-contract with Sullivan in exchange for the loan money Wright would need to build him and his wife their home in Oak Park, a Chicago suburb. Tempted by the need to provide for his family, Wright took on independent residential commissions even though it violated his contract with Sullivan. When Sullivan found out, the two parted ways and did not repair their relationship until twenty years later. It was this separation, however, that pushed Wright out on his own and allowed him to grow his prolific independent career.

Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright. Credit: Somach on Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The Work of Frank Lloyd Wright

After his separation from Sullivan, Wright started his own firm in 1893. Wright’s career spanned an impressive seven decades, a time period over which he developed his distinctive point of view and style. Wright saw architects as the poets of their time — an artistic historian of sorts. He believed in creating structures that lived in harmony with the natural world, a point of view which he called “organic architecture.”

Wright brought American design to the forefront and was the leader of the Prairie School movement, a distinctly American midwestern style. Hallmarks of Prairie School design include low-pitched roofs, overhanging eaves and open floor plans. These expansive residences mirrored the endless landscape of the Midwestern prairies, and employed materials such as wood to further integrate the manmade with its environment. 

Ennis House, 1924, Frank Lloyd Wright — a Textile style/Mayan Revival home
Ennis House, 1924, Frank Lloyd Wright — a Textile style/Mayan Revival home. Credit: Mike Dillon on Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Later in his career, Wright also worked in the textile style out West, as well as pioneering a new dichotomy with his 60-house Usonian series. The Usonian homes were another way Wright carved out a language that was distinctly American, uninfluenced by any international predecessors. These homes were marked by their flat roofs and cantilevered overhanging — which became the source of the term “carport.” While out West, Wright also established Taliesin West and other structures near the greater Phoenix area, some of which are close to our Optima communities in Arizona. Just as we’re inspired by the desert scape, Wright was similarly enchanted with the surrounding foliage and existing architecture. 

Cedar Rock (Lowell Walter House), 1948, Frank Lloyd Wright — a Usonian house
Cedar Rock (Lowell Walter House), 1948, Frank Lloyd Wright — a Usonian house. Credit: AIA Iowa.

With his 70-year career, 500+ completed projects and numerous accolades, this is only the tip of the iceberg in the legacy left behind by Frank Lloyd Wright. It is all these contributions and more that will forever cement Wright as a master of American architecture.

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