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Featured Artist: Frank Lloyd Wright—American Architect

Wright’s Architectural Vision

Frank Lloyd Wright at his office in Taliesin West.

Fallingwater in Western Pennsylvania is an example of Wright’s integration of nature into architectural design.

Born in Wisconsin just two years after the end of the American Civil War, Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959) witnessed the extraordinary changes that transformed the nation from a largely agrarian economy to an industrial and cultural center. He enthusiastically embraced the social and technological changes made possible by the Industrial Revolution, and initiated his own architectural revolution.

Wright possessed a true pioneer spirit, eschewing the traditional European-inspired designs of his contemporaries in favor of site-specific construction where "form and function were one."

Wright’s anchor and muse was Nature, which he spelled with a capital “N.” His architectural quests sought to encompass the idea of Nature, which he described as “that inner harmony which penetrates the outward form…and is its determining character.”

"Every great architect is—necessarily—a great poet. ​He must be a great original interpreter of his time, his day, his age.”

—Frank Lloyd Wright

To Wright, architecture was not just about buildings, it was about nourishing the lives of those sheltered within them. Wright believed architecture must stand as a unified whole, grow from and be a blessing to the landscape, all parts relating and contributing to the final unity, whether furnishings, plantings, or works of art. According to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, he created environments of carefully composed plans and elevations based on a consistent geometric grammar, while skillfully implementing the integration of the building with the site through the compatibility of materials, form, and method of construction. He called his architecture style “organic” and described it as that “great living creative spirit which from generation to generation, from age to age, proceeds, persists, creates, according to the nature of man and his circumstances as they both change.”

Wright’s designs initially were considered radical and received criticism. However, his following grew, and both Wright’s buildings and his school of architecture received acclaim within his lifetime.

In 1991, the American Institute of Architects named Frank Lloyd Wright the greatest American architect of all time and Architectural Record published a list of the one hundred most important buildings of the previous century that included twelve Wright structures. Twenty-five Wright projects have been designated National Historic Landmarks, and ten have been named to the tentative World Heritage Site list.

Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture

Taliesin West takes advantage of the desert’s natural attributes.

In 1931, Wright proposed a plan to form a school of architecture at Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Education at Taliesin would emphasize painting, sculpture, music, drama, and dance "in their places as divisions of architecture.” Students would “learn by doing” as apprentices, and would have a hand in the upkeep and maintenance of the school as part of their curriculum. In 1932, twenty-three apprentices came to live and learn at Taliesin.

In the winter of 1935 Wright moved the entire Fellowship to Chandler, Arizona, where they constructed the model of Broadacre City, Frank Lloyd Wright's concept of the integration of living and working in successfully planned communities. This first winter in Arizona inaugurated the tradition of moving the school between Wisconsin and Arizona that still continues.

After the first two winters in temporary quarters, he purchased land in Scottsdale and, in 1937, with the apprentices, began the construction of a new kind of desert architecture at Taliesin West.

The Taliesin Fellowship (as it was called) developed into an exciting architectural laboratory which attracted some of the nation's best work and hosted many of the world's great artists and great minds. Students did the first perspectives of the Guggenheim Museum (New York, NY) and Monona Terrace (Madison, WI). After World War II, fellows and apprentices worked on more than 100 houses, including the expansion of Taliesin West. After Frank Lloyd Wright's death in 1959, the Senior Fellows incorporated an architectural firm to continue the practice and to mentor the apprentices. The school was formally accredited in 1987.

Taliesin West

Taliesin West: “There were simple characteristic silhouettes to go by, tremendous drifts and heaps of sunburned desert rocks were nearby to be used. We got it all together with the landscape…” —Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright visited Arizona for the first time in 1927, when architect Albert Chase McArthur (a former student) invited him to advise him in the projected structure of the Arizona Biltmore Hotel. Wright was immediately taken with the desert landscape, observing, “Arizona needs its own architecture…Arizona’s long, low, sweeping lines, uptilting planes. Surface patterned after such abstraction in line and color as find “realism” in the patterns of the rattlesnake, the Gila monster, the chameleon, and the saguaro, cholla or staghorn—or is it the other way around—are inspiration enough.”

In 1937, Wright selected a site in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale and began to build Taliesin West using native materials. Today the 600-acre compound stands as a shining tribute to the marriage of form and function. Structures feature a medley of heavy desert rock and masonry, glass walls, and redwood beams. The six-sided cabaret theater built of the native rock and concrete offers 95% acoustic perfection. All the buildings, their placement, and the connecting terraces take advantage of the light and scenery of the Sonoran Desert.

Taliesin West is a National Historic Landmark, the western site of Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.

Energizing Taliesin West

On May 24, 2012, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation inaugurated a new solar power array in the first phase of Energizing Taliesin West™, a pioneering effort to transform the entire Taliesin West site into a “net zero” energy customer, producing as much energy as it consumes. The 250-kilowatt AC photovoltaic system is the first step in achieving the Foundation’s twin goals of maximizing the campus’s energy efficiency through improved lighting, insulation, climate controls and other techniques while also generating renewable energy on-site.

The program is led by energy efficiency consultant Big Green Zero; the solar array of 4000 PV panels is a donation by First Solar, Inc. (Nasdaq: FSLR) of Tempe, AZ.

The solar power system is engineered to provide maximum renewable energy with minimal impact on the historic and architectural integrity of the site. It is expected to generate more than 500 megawatt-hours per year of emission-free electricity with no water or waste, displacing more than 300 tons of carbon dioxide annually, the equivalent of taking more than 50 cars off the road.

Energizing Taliesin West™

Native cacti and other plant species which were removed during construction were transplanted throughout the project site, and the entire site will be seeded to restore native vegetation. Visible portions of the mounting system have been painted to help blend into the desert environment. In addition, First Solar will collect and recycle its modules.

Big Green Zero proposed developing the Energizing Taliesin West™ program to demonstrate best-of-breed energy efficiency and solar energy technologies at this profoundly historic property. The array is not visible from the core of the campus but can be seen by visitors as they enter and leave. Inspired by Wright’s principles of harmony with Nature, the array is placed to provide maximum power but to blend with the landscape as much as possible.

Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West, 1955. In the drafting room of Taliesin West, Wright used translucent canvas (later replaced by plastic) to create a roof that let in natural light.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation is a non-profit organization that was established by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1940 to be a cultural and educational institution and the primary conservator of his work. The Foundation owns two world-famous National Historic Landmarks—Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin and Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona—both open to inspire the public. The Foundation also owns and operates the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, a continuation of the apprenticeship program Wright established in 1932.

Information and images provided by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation