Off the 101 and up a winding, narrow two lane road lined with cacti lies the work of a 20th century master who many have called America’s greatest architect. On your next trip to Phoenix, check out the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West, his 500-acre estate nestled high in the Sonoran Desert and offering spectacular panoramic views of the Valley of the Sun (Wright once called it “the top of the world”). On a typical hot but dry Sunday morning this spring, I joined 25 others on a 90 minute Insights Tour exploring the work of this Midwest native.
Although tours are given frequently, I would recommend reservations as they fill up fast. Our tour guide shepherded us toward the entrance while explaining that Taliesin (pronounced tal-ee-ES-in) is a Welsh word meaning “shining brow” and the two interlocking lines that became his square logo come from a petroglyph found on his property that was believed to have been made by the native Hohokam Indians. (Wright thought the interlocking lines looked like a handshake representing friendship.)
After surviving a bought of pneumonia in 1937, his doctor recommended escaping the brutal Midwest winters so he arrived at age 70 with 23 apprentices to begin construction of Taliesin West in 1939. It is a sterling example of the style that made him famous – blending nature with structure (even the pool is triangular shaped to fit neatly alongside the main building) so the property reflects its surroundings. Our tour guide mentioned an example of Wright’s work style – he didn’t sit down at a drafting table to design this new home, he just made everything in his head come to life. It was never really “finished” as Wright used it as a laboratory of sorts, renovating it each winter until his death in 1959. Today it looks much the same as it did when Wright passed away.
As you enter the office, you will notice the first of many short ceilings. Reportedly around 5’8”, Wright once remarked that anyone taller than six feet was “a waste of space.” An optical illusion is explained – at times it seems like the floors aren’t level but they are in fact structured that way to be proportional to the nearby mountains. On the Insights Tour, you will also visit rooms including his and his wife’s private living quarters (separated because of Wright’s tendency to get up with an idea in the middle of the night) and the Cabaret Theater (his private entertainment space) but a highlight may be the Garden Room or living room, where you can sit in Wright-designed chairs.
Photos are allowed on the tour but no one is allowed to wander the property freely before or after the tour. I didn’t see any children when I was there as it’s really geared toward adults. I would recommend tennis or other closed-toed shoes as the paths around the buildings are crushed gravel. And, of course, don’t forget your water bottle.
For more information, visit the website of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
Checking In: After your tour of this National Historic Landmark, check into the Talking Stick Resort, just a short distance from Taliesin West also off the 101. You can lounge on the desert colored couches in the outdoor patio, take in native art from the Maricopa and Pima tribes in the cultural display, attend a concert in their showroom (The Bodeans were playing the night I was there) or relax in their on-site spa. They are also home to a 36-hole golf course, 24/7 casino and near Salt River Fields (the spring training home of the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks) and the Pavilions, a shopping destination with more than five dozen shops and restaurants.
For more information, visit their website.