Frank Lloyd Wright in Scottsdale

By: Andrew Collins

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June 23, 2011

Explore the architectural contributions and inspirations of Frank Lloyd Wright by visiting the Arizona Biltmore, Taliesin West and Arcosanti.

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Andrew Collins

America’s seminal architect Frank Lloyd Wright is perhaps most associated with Wisconsin and Illinois, where he spent much of his life changing the way people think about buildings. In Frank Lloyd Wright’s later decades, he developed a passion for Arizona. 

Here, on the outskirts of Scottsdale, he built his winter compound, Taliesin West, which today ranks among the region’s most fascinating attractions. Wright first visited the area in 1927, when a former student asked him to help design the state’s first resort, the now-legendary Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa.

About 10 years later, the 70-year-old architect and his entourage designed Taliesin West, his so-called “desert camp.” In true Frank Lloyd Wright style, he designed the buildings with an organic sensibility, so that they would complement the natural desert surroundings rather than conflict with them.

Desert Compounds

Taliesin West lies a bit north and east of Scottsdale proper, on a bluff in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains, affording panoramic vistas of the Sonoran Desert. On a visit to this 600-acre property, you can still behold the brilliant, boulder-strewn landscape that inspired Wright’s designs. The architect spent his winters here from 1937 until his death in 1959 (the year he designed the Gammage Memorial Auditorium, still an icon on the campus of nearby Tempe’s Arizona State University).

The buildings at Taliesin West, which blend imperceptibly with the arid landscape, have been meticulously preserved.

From the rectilinear stone and concrete walls and parapets to the white translucent rooftops, it’s easy to see how Wright used natural materials to build his compound.

In 2005, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation fully restored the architect’s private bedroom and living quarters, which you can view on some of the guided tours available here. These tours range from 60-minute overview walks to comprehensive three-hour, behind-the-scenes tours.

While you’re in the area, pay a visit to Cosanti, the four-acre home-studio of Italian-born Paolo Soleri, another legendary 20th-century architect who studied under Wright’s tutelage in the late 1940s. Today, Soleri lives a peaceful but fruitful life at Cosanti, a curious compound where you can buy the bronze and ceramic windbells for which he’s become renowned. A fleet of students now produces the windbells, and at certain times you can watch them at work.

Cosanti is also the base of operations for the construction of Soleri’s celebrated Arcosanti, an experimental community conceived of in 1970 in the foothills some 75 miles north of Phoenix (only a small portion of the town has been built so far).

Arizona’s Legendary Resort

The other major stop on any Frank Lloyd Wright tour of the area is the striking Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, located on the east side of Phoenix. You can opt to stay at this posh 39-acre resort, or just enjoy dinner at the aptly named restaurant, Wright’s. Here, you might sample such divine creations as roasted pheasant with sweet-cherry risotto and seared cod with braised oxtail ravioli and Madeira jus.

There’s a bit of mystery as to Wright’s exact role in the design of the Biltmore. Officially, he served as the consulting architect, with former student Albert Chase McArthur having been the primary designer. But many speculate that Wright was the main force behind the compound’s design, especially given that McArthur never again designed a public building of note.

As you stroll through the property, note the pre-cast, desert-sand bricks with distinctive geometric patterns (known as “Biltmore Blocks”), as well as glass walls and ceilings that capture the unmistakable Frank Lloyd Wright aesthetic. The spirit of this architectural legend is alive and well in Arizona.

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