The Taliesin West tour highlights stunning architecture in the desert

It was a sunny spring morning at the Magnuson Hotel Papago Inn in Scottsdale, AZ, and my parents and I were looking for an entertaining way to spend out afternoon. We are from rainy Seattle, and I was on spring break. After doing some internet searching, we discovered that Taliesin West was a short drive from the Magnuson Hotel Papago Inn. Once the home of famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, a tour of Taliesin West seemed like the perfect outdoor activity for my parents and me. I was able to sign us up for a tour that afternoon through their website. With a few clicks, our plans were made and drove off into the desert to find this mysterious home of the famous architect.

 

We arrived after an easy 20 minute drive. The tour was led an elderly man who was passionate about everything having to do with Frank Lloyd Wright. The group of 12 of us followed him closely, laughing at his antidotes and absorbing the fascinating facts he shared with us. Before this tour, I basically knew nothing about Wright besides the angular shapes and lines he used in his art-deco drawings and architecture, but every detail about his life was fascinating.

As the tour of Taliesin West unfolded, I learned that this was the seasonal home of him, his young wife, and his family. An interesting combination of sophisticated architecture and camp-like atmosphere in a desert setting makes Taliesin West unlike any other place. The tour would be captivating for those like me (someone who knew nothing about Wright) and for those who have extensive knowledge on the life and accomplishments of Wright. Just viewing the spectacular home and the setting itself is enough to make the trip. This photo is from an old postcard and taken by John Amarantides. This room looks much the same today. 

The first room we entered had a low-hanging canvas ceiling. It was filled with drawings and models of Wright’s accomplishments. His wife had made him put glass along the sides because unwanted critters kept sneaking in. The canvas ceiling created a laid back feeling. It was a strange combination of a permanent dwelling and a temporary shelter, however the canvas material offered the perfect amount of shade from the sun while allowing maximum air-flow. This was my first exposure to the fact that there was a purpose to every detail of Wright’s creations.

 

The most stunning part of the tour was walking out on to the courtyard next to the pool. I felt like I was in a Vogue photo-shoot. The crystal color of the pool stood out as a vibrant centerpiece to the home. The sharp angles of the pools contrasted with the soft desert landscape, and were echoed by the low elongated shapes made by the rafters of Taliesin West. Dad snapped a couple of snazzy photos of Mom and I before we caught up with the rest of our group.

The second part of the tour was spent exploring the Wright family’s modest and functional living quarters. These rooms were juxtaposed by the formal dining room. This was the room where Wright and his wife hosted countless celebrities, intellectuals, and artists. I felt like I had walked in to a scene out of AMC’s “Mad Men.” The orange carpet and angular furniture, that on paper sound so garish, were somehow sophisticated and inviting. I could imagine the incredible parties that had been hosted there, complete with incredible fashion and conversation.

For the final part of the tour, we visited the room in the complex where concerts were held. Wright designed this room to have perfect acoustics. The result was incredible, anyone performing could be heard by the audience, no matter where they were sitting. Once again, Wright’s design seemed modest, but there was an elegance to the style and purpose of his design. Now I understand why Wright has such a large following throughout the United States and internationally. It is also impressive that there is still an operational school at Taliesin West. Young architects can still learn about Frank Lloyd Wright while living in the very accommodations he designed in this beautiful and alien landscape.

There are public tours everyday except Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. The tours are from one to three hours long. I highly recommend this trip, especially if you are staying at the Magnuson Hotel Papago Inn in Scottsdale because the drive is so simple and easy. It was refreshing to get out of the city and into nature while simultaneously learning about a great American artist. I was overwhelmed by the breathtaking setting and architecture, but also by the fact that I had stumbled on a special place. I hope to someday return to Taliesin West.

Written by Rebecca Wirta - Photos by Bret Wirta