A few weeks back, I had the great pleasure of touring Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s school and winter camp in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was a surprisingly raw, blustery day, and I joined one of the tours that wend frequently through the sprawling desert complex. As I am sure you know, Frank Lloyd Wright, was one of America’s greatest architects in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, a genius of concrete and glass and light, and his winter camp, though roughhewn and experimental looking, did not disappoint.
Wright died in 1959, but his spirit was still very much alive at Taliesin West. At one point in the tour, for example, I briefly spied, through the glass windows of a room off-limits to the public, a stooped, elderly figure swiftly fleeing like a startled bird into some hidden room. I later learned that he was a member of The Fellowship, one of Wright’s aged former students who resides at Taliesin West. Like the British aristocrats who open their castles and estates to the public in order to pay the upkeep, the Fellowship does not care much for tourists. But the steep entrance fees provide Wright’s fellows with one of the most beautiful and elite retirement homes in North America.
I found many things about Taliesin West fascinating. Wright’s students, for example, had to be a hardy, self-sufficient lot. When the newest students arrived at the camp, their first assignment was to design and build a shelter in the nearby desert, where they would live while attending Wright’s school. Some of these shelters grew quite elaborate over time, as their builders added more space, but none possessed much in the way of creature comforts. I can imagine that some future archaeologists will have a great deal of fun digging what remains of these imaginative shelters.
When Wright purchased the land for Taliesin West in the 1930s, it possessed an unparalleled view of a desert wilderness, precisely what he was looking for. So he designed the complex so that it would face out into the sweeping desert below. Civilization soon caught up with Taliesin West, however: someone built a home in its sightlines, and the residential lights at night apparently threw Wright into a state of despair.
But he was not easily defeated. He did not want to pick up and start afresh somewhere else, so he reoriented the entire complex so that it would look out upon a mountain that rose in the opposite direction.
I’m posting below a wonderful little YouTube video taken in 1933 of the Taliesin Fellowship. It was filmed by a former student in Spring Green, Wisconsin, where Wright and his proteges spent their summer.