Modern Architecture: A Trip Through Taliesin
As a true design-build firm, we strive to immerse ourselves in architecture no matter what department it is in which we work. This was the spirit behind our Operations Department’s recent outing to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West in Scottsdale last week.
In 2014, LGE Design Group was founded in order to streamline the services that LGE Design Build and LGE Residential Design Build provide. Modern design quickly became the calling card for our architects. What has now become an award-winning architecture firm, LGE Design Group draws heavily from the past masters of their craft.
While the works of Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe clearly stand out amongst that of their peers, it was Frank Lloyd Wright who truly defined and revolutionized what we consider modern architecture. Because of his roots in the Midwest, many of the structures Wright designed are found in Wisconsin or Illinois. However, Taliesin West is the one work that may truly define who Frank Lloyd Wright was to the world of architecture.
WHAT IS TALIESIN?
There are a couple of points to note about the origins of Taliesin. First, this was the name of Wright’s personal home in Spring Green, Wisconsin. The name “Taliesin” is derived from Welsh, meaning “Shining Brow”. According to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, he chose the name because he wanted the original Taliesin to be part of the hill on which it was built and not on top of it.
Wright also created a guild of apprentices and their families, who made up the Taliesin Fellowship. This group not only worked and studied with Wright, but they also lived on the grounds of the first Taliesin in Wisconsin and subsequently at Taliesin West in Arizona.
HOW DID TALIESIN WEST COME ABOUT?
In the mid-to-late 1930’s, when many believed Wright was past his prime, he turned out several projects that would forever be considered some of his greatest works. During that time, he completed the S.C. Johnson and Son Company Administration Building and Fallingwater, a private residence built directly above a natural waterfall.
Around that same era, he decided to build Taliesin West, a campus of buildings in Scottsdale that would dually serve as his winter home and a laboratory for the Fellowship. In his autobiography, Wright would state that not only was the Taliesin Fellowship an “outdoor outfit”, but it was too expensive to heat the original Taliesin during the harsh Wisconsin winters.
The group originally stayed in Chandler, Ariz., but Wright eventually found the current grounds for Taliesin West near the McDowell Mountains, and they began to build there on their winter migrations. Wright and his Taliesin Fellowship would continue to travel back-and-forth from Wisconsin and Arizona until his death in 1959.
FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION
Situated on just under 500 acres to the southwest of the McDowell Mountain Range, Taliesin was always viewed by Wright as a work-in-progress. Low-level buildings were continuously added on, and Wright, along with his apprentices, would regularly make modifications to the structures and the surrounding property.
As Wright’s desert retreat evolved, his apprentices were outfitted with all of the necessary resources they needed to work more productively. Studios for drafting, theatres, and workshops were added, along with amenities like dining facilities and places for the apprentices, their families, along with Wright and his wife to live.
Several key components of modern design are evident throughout the vast expanse of the Taliesin West grounds. Among the most notable features of Wright’s architecture were the clean lines that were prominent in every one of his projects and Taliesin is no exception. Examples of this can be found in both the interior and exterior of these buildings, as well as the landscaping throughout the grounds.
At the core of Wright’s architecture was the concept of minimalism, and again, it was evident in the exterior and interiors of his buildings. The most glaring examples of minimalism at Taliesin West can be found in the interior décor. Almost every piece of furniture was either built by Wright himself or a member of the Taliesin Fellowship and strategically placed.
It was not uncommon for Wright to design all the furniture for his projects. He was known to design some buildings so there was only one configuration for the furniture in an effort to maintain his original vision of the space. In at least one case, the Rosenbaum House in Florence, Ala., the furniture was bolted down to discourage any rearrangement or replacement.
Taliesin is, perhaps, the best example of Wright’s use of open space, considering there were no physical doors or windows when it was built. The entire building was constructed to be open to its natural surroundings. All of the openings were originally covered with canvas to provide protection from the hot Arizona sun, but to also still allow light in as the structures lacked electricity. Running water was also a luxury that the Taliesin Fellowship did without. The original well, built by Wright, is still the main water supply for the campus. The buildings, as they exist today, however, now have windows and electricity.
MODERN BUILDING MATERIALS
The materials used to construct Taliesin make up the one area where Wright deviated drastically from many other modern structures. One of the signature features of Taliesin West’s architecture are the large wooden beams that protrude from almost all of the buildings. While there was a small amount of steel used for the buildings, concrete was the only prominent representation of a modern building material.
ONE WITH NATURE
In addition to the exposure of the interior to the surrounding desert landscape through open spaces, Wright fused these buildings with nature by literally using the desert as the foundation of Taliesin. The walls and columns of these structures were formed by using large local rocks that were set in cement and mixed with sand found in the surrounding desert.