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Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona by Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright's Experiment in Desert Living

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Frank Lloyd Wright Taliesin West in Arizona, made of stone, water, and wood.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West, with reflecting pool and entrance, at Shea Road in Scottsdale, Arizona, c. 1963

Photo by Hedrich Blessing Collection/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images Frank Lloyd Wright's organic architecture with cactus in foreground, Taliesin in Scottsdale, Arizona

Organic architecture of Wright's design, with desert cactus in foreground.

Photo by Hedrich Blessing Collection/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West in Arizona, designed with the elements - stone, water, wood

Frank Lloyd Wright designed with the elements - stone, water, and wood.

Photo by Hedrich Blessing Collection/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images

It began not as a grand scheme, but a simple need. Frank Lloyd Wright and his apprentices had traveled a long distance from his Taliesin school in Spring Green, Wisconsin to build a resort hotel in Chandler, Arizona. Because they were far from home, they set up camp on a stretch of the Sonoran Desert near the construction site.

Building Taliesin West

The early encampment at Taliesin West contained little more than temporary shelters made of wood and canvas. However, Frank Lloyd Wright was inspired by the dramatic, rugged landscape. He envisioned an elaborate complex of buildings that would embody his concept of organic architecture. He wanted the buildings to evolve from and blend with the environment.

In 1937, the desert school known as Taliesin West was launched. Following in the tradition of Taliesin in Wisconsin, Wright's apprentices studied, worked, and lived in shelters they crafted using materials native to the land.

Organic Design at Taliesin West

Lugging stone and sand, the students constructed buildings that seemed to grow from the earth. Wood and steel beams supported translucent canvas roofs. Natural stone combined with glass and plastic to create surprising shapes and textures. Interior space flowed naturally into the open desert.

For awhile, Taliesin West was a retreat from the harsh Wisconsin winters. Eventually, air conditioning was added and students stayed through the fall and spring.

Taliesin West Today

At Taliesin West, the desert is never still. Over the years, Wright and his students made many changes, and the school continues to evolve. Today, the 600 acre complex includes a drafting studio, Wright's former architectural office and living quarters, a dining room and kitchen, several theaters, housing for apprentices and staff, a student workshop, and expansive grounds with pools, terraces and gardens. Experimental structures built by apprentice architects dot the landscape.

In 1973 the American Institute of Architects (AIA) gave the property its Twenty-five Year Award. On its fiftieth anniversary in 1987, Taliesin West won special recognition from the U.S. House of Representatives, which called the complex "the highest achievement in American artistic and architectural expression." According to the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Taliesin West is one of 17 buildings in the United States that exemplify Wright's contribution to American architecture.

But, you be the judge. Join us on a photo tour of the school and grounds, and tell us what you think of Wright's bold endeavor in desert living.

See Photos of Taliesin West >

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