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 The Wright House for the Right

Architect

by Jan DeGrass

(Coast Reporter, Feb. 23, 2007)

Frank Lloyd Wright, the iconic American architect, is a guy I might

have liked. He designed his home near Scottsdale, Arizona, to be in

harmony with the desert landscape. Also, much of his best work in a

prolific career was done when he was nudging 80 years old. His

dream home, Taliesin West, sprawls on a hillside on the edge of the

desert and is open to visitors for guided tours.

The courtyard at Taliesein West, near Phoenix, Arizona.

Construction began in the 1930s with a simple, low, tent-like

structure. Canvas was used in place of windows until it was replaced

with glass at the suggestion of Mrs. Wright, who appeared to have

nudged Frank frequently in bringing her own ideas to the home. He

seemed to care little for basic creature comforts: his bed, the family

dining room, his sun chairs (he liked to sit in the sun) are all simple.

But he did care when it came to building the special things: a water

feature that doubled as a wading pool for the kids and a reservoir in

case of fire, Asian ceramic sculptures (scrounged from an import

company basement in San Francisco) built into the landscaping, and

even a cabaret theatre for evening entertainment.

Over the years, the canvas structures turned into something grand

that has endured into this century, in an eye-pleasing design with a

surprise at every turn. For example, you round a corner and almost

step into a shallow, rectangular pool in the middle of an outdoor

walkway. In that desert heat, it has a soothing influence. You look up

from the garden and see an unusual bell tower. You sit in Wright's

vast living room with its low slanting ceilings on one of the famous

Wright designed origami chairs, cushioned wooden frames pleated

into intriguing angular folds, and think about all the famous people

who visited him there in his lifetime. Form and function are in

harmony in the living room with padded, fixed seating around the

walls and modular tables that could be taken apart and used for

ottomans. But the room has a fly-stuck-in-amber feel to it; one can

imagine the photo spreads in Life magazine and the post war interior

decorators copying the avant garde designs.

Wright died in 1959 but his house and his Foundation still provides a

learning environment for architects. In the early days, young

students came to learn and one of the first things they had to do was

build their own tent shelter under the searing Arizona sun. Often they

learned by doing the grunt work, putting up hand-made, rough

cement walls. The public can take a guided tour of the home and

gardens at specified times. Because architects live and study there

now, visitors cannot just wander about. The $25 tour is worth it,

especially to see Wright's office where his most creative work was

born and to enjoy the superb view from the grounds over Scottsdale

and Phoenix.

 

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The courtyard at Taliesein West, near Phoenix, Arizona.