Taliesin West

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Description

Bridging the gap between environment and architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright built Taliesin West in Scottsdale as a winter home. It has endured as a symbol of his vision. Wright fell in love with the desert and used Taliesin West as a place for education and relaxation in the later part of his life. Generations of apprentices came here to work under Wright, and today Taliesin West is home to the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.

Transcript

Narrator:
On the foothills of the McDowell Mountains north of Scottsdale lies Taliesin West. Once the winter residence of one of the 20th century's greatest architects, Frank Lloyd Wright, Taliesin West was and is a community of architects and apprentices learning and practicing organic architecture. It is also a sublime place of natural and architectural harmony.

Vernon Swaback:
Taliesin West is a statement of a very heroic person, a very heroic nature of someone who first programmed the life to the experience in these structures, and then designed the structures to support that.

Narrator:
Considered a visionary today, the iconoclastic architect Frank Lloyd Wright sometimes faced ridicule in his day when he advanced the theory of organic architecture. He believed form and function are one, that a structure and a site are one.

Vernon Swaback:
What he wanted was for architecture, in his words, to be a natural consort to the ground, for people and the lives of people to be a kind of flowering of the spirit of the land, one and the same, both being nature, both being natural. He would say that what is natural is not necessarily architectural, but what is architectural must always be natural.

Narrator:
Wright bridged the gap between environmentalism and development. Taliesin West is an exemplar of this idea, reflecting a great respect for the land.

Bruce Pfeiffer:
Well, he came out, first around 1927, '28, working with The Biltmore as a consultant and fell in love with the desert. He loved it as a contrast to his pastoral Wisconsin.

Narrator:
On a Wisconsin hilltop, Wright had built the original Taliesin in 1911.Taliesin, the name of a welsh poet, means “a shining brow.” The house served as a home, office, and summer location for his apprentices. Wright found the site for Taliesin West in 1937.

Bruce Pfeiffer:
So when Wright came out here, he came with his wife, his children -- his daughter, and about 25 young men who then were his apprentices. And with just that work force, they began to build Taliesin West, picked the stones off the side of the mountain, sand from the washes mixed with concrete, and then the redwood beams, white canvas. This is called the drafting room of the studio. Actually, it was the first room built, and this block here was the first masonry walls. You see, in Arizona you can't dress or till the stone. Let's put the flat part of the stone against the form, pour concrete behind it, and we call it a desert rubble wall. And then the beams overhead carry the canvas flaps, and thiswas actually a bathing room, living room, dining room until the rest of the building was built. Actually, the first room built was the kitchen, and that centers the whole thing. And he called it a galley because he referred to Taliesin West as a ship afloat on the desert with the prow and the white canvas. You saw a ship on the desert.

Narrator:
Bruce Pfeiffer came to Taliesin as an apprentice more than 50 years ago.

Bruce Pfeiffer:
I lived in a tent for five, six years. Enjoyed it. Read by candlelight. Of course, at that time, we were really in the wilderness.

Narrator:
Vernon Swaback began his apprenticeship in 1957.

Vernon Swaback:
I have a very nice house. Architecture's been very good to me, but as a teenager, I lived in a tent, and at night, I walked out into the blackness of night, quiet...mystical. And when I went to sleep in my little tent, I was part of all of that. I've said it often, and I can say it without any fear of reservation, that in many ways, I will never live that well again.

Narrator:
From the beginning at Taliesin West, the apprentices learned from their mentor and collectively built what is now the home of both The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. There is a theatre on site as well as a cabaret. Life was a mixture of manual labor and social functions.

Vernon Swaback:
Our little inside joke about that would be to be a Taliesin apprentice, you needed a hammer, a sleeping bag, and a tuxedo.

Narrator:
The living quarters in the Wright's house were unpretentious, tending to be relatively small but filled with beautiful art and cultural clues.

Vernon Swaback:
But I think the most exciting thing about this room as well as all of Taliesin West is coming out to the middle of undeveloped desert and rather than thinking in terms of survival or shelter, there's this immediate sense of grand pianos and wide open spaces and Indian blankets and just a celebration of cultural life.

Narrator:
Wright worked tirelessly, and imbued his apprentices with vision and purpose.

Bruce Pfeiffer:
I think that's one thing that kept him young is he surrounded himself with youth, and for him youth was a quality not about age. He always reminded us that.

Narrator:
There were 70 to 90 apprentices at Taliesin at the time of Wright's death in 1959. All who experienced his life and work in the desert carry with them a reflection of his vision.

Bruce Pfeiffer:
Buildings which are in harmony with nature, buildings which are dedicated to the human being.

Vernon Swaback:
In Wright's words, civilization is only a way of life, architecture a way, and culture is a way of making that way of life beautiful. And beauty to him was not prettiness or taste or fashion. Beauty was fundamentally something that worked, like life itself.