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Frank Lloyd Wright's Architecture Continues to Inspire in Arizona

  • Shelley Schlender

Frank Lloyd Wright is known as the father of modern American architecture.

Two historic properties in the state of Arizona show the grand expanse of his designs. One is Taliesin West - Wright’s rustic winter home and architecture school. Half-an-hour away is a Wright-influenced hotel that’s filled with eye-popping luxury.

The splash of fountains is a refreshing counterpoint to the dry sagebrush foothills that surround Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece, Taliesin West. Wright broke ground on this 200 hectare property in 1939.

The buildings include an airy theatre for live performances, an underground “kiva” for movie shows, and the residence where Wright lived until his death in 1959.

When tour guide Mark Coryell leads visitors toward the office where Wright met with clients from around the world, tourists of a certain height must bend down so they don't hit their heads against Wright’s characteristically low doorways. They can stand up again in his office, which features rough-hewn native stone, and high, sloping ceilings that seem to float, because they’re translucent.

Coryell says Wright originally achieved this ethereal effect by making roofs from simple canvas cloth. The office includes windows placed so high, only the desert sky is visible.

During the 1930s, most American architects preferred classic white columns that adorned straight, proper buildings, surrounded by clipped green lawns. The columns at Taliesin West slant, casting dramatic shadows, and the rough stone walls blend with the native cactus and desert trees.

“He’s uniquely American, and he wanted to break from us just copying other cultures like we did in Washington," said one visitor who finds Wright's ideas inspiring. "Beautiful, obviously, but it’s not unique. So, that’s really one of the legacies.”

“I have a niece and a nephew that are both young architects," said another tourist. "And they’re all drawn to those that came before. It’s the continuity of history and I love it."

To preserve that continuity, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation spends over $1 million a year on this National Historic Landmark. The foundation also oversees an architecture school on the property where today’s apprentices work in the same drafting hall where Wright designed New York’s Guggenheim Museum.

As part of their training, they often roll up their sleeves and grab a hammer.

“We are helping take care of the buildings so we’re helping with preservation, and we learn a fair amount of construction,” said graduate student Corinne Bell.

Only half an hour from the rustic beauty of Taliesin West is another homage to Wright where the Arizona Biltmore Hotel rises like a palace from posh flower gardens and swimming pools.

Designed by one of Wright's students, the luxury hotel is strongly influenced by the legendary architect. Wright was an on-site consultant during the creation of the hotel’s elegant walls. They’re made from concrete “Biltmore Blocks," that feature palm frond patterns. Details like these have drawn presidents and movie stars to the Biltmore.

Public Relations Manager Sarah Moran leads the way to the Aztec Room, a popular venue for weddings, with many details favored by Wright.

“You can see the beautiful Biltmore Block all the way around, the gold leaf ceiling, the copper beams," she said. "We’ve really tried to keep this room really looking like it did back then.”

That these two very different styles of buildings are still studied and admired is a testament to Wright's futuristic vision and lasting legacy.
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