Taliesin West offers glimpse into history of innovation
Frank Lloyd Wright was an architect ahead of his time, with an approach to design that defied convention and, decades after his death, still defines how we build and live in America.
His winter home and studio, Taliesin West, served as a laboratory for some of Wright’s most innovative ideas including the concept of an open floor plan to bring families together, creating harmony with nature by bringing the outdoors in through indoor/outdoor living, and exploring the practice of shared use, a concept embraced today by companies like Uber and Airbnb. Determined to change the way we live by what he coined as “Organic Architecture,” Wright once said his approach to design makes it “quite impossible to consider the building as one thing, its furnishing another and its setting and environment still another.”
Many of Wright’s once radical ideas that are now commonplace today include:
- The Open Floor Plan: Homes were traditionally built as boxes with any number of small box-shaped rooms inside. Wright pioneered the idea of opening up the space in a home to be free flowing, not separated by walls and structures, so that families could meet and come together. Open floor plans were a defining element of Wright’s Prairie Style that he believed was the antidote to the confined, closed-in architecture of the Victorian era.
- Indoor/Outdoor Living: Taliesin West is a premier example of Wright integrating indoor and outdoor living. Inhabited by Wright, his family, and his apprentices during the mild winter months when sunshine was abundant and heavy rains were scarce, Taliesin West was considered more of a camp than a home, providing shelter while embracing the surrounding desert landscape. Blurring the lines of indoor/outdoor living is now a major focus of homes throughout the Southwest and beyond. Visitors to Taliesin West are encouraged to experience the Garden Room by sitting in the furniture and admiring the framed views of the desert landscape, which exudes a sense of peace and tranquility in harmony with nature. The Garden Room then opens up to Mrs. Wright’s sitting room, where the folding doors open an entire wall to the garden. On nice days, apprentices would carry Mrs. Wright’s desk onto the lawn as an extension of the room.
- Natural Light: Wright perfected the concept of flooding indoor spaces with diffused natural light at Taliesin West with canvas roofs, clerestory windows and floor-to-ceiling windows to name a few. This parlayed the use of large banks of windows, mitered corner windows and skylights found in many of today’s homes where brighter living spaces are commanded. These naturally daylit spaces, such as the Drafting Studio where students of the School of Architecture at Taliesin still work today, support a more comfortable and productive work environment.
- Creative Use of Electric Lighting: Wright challenged the use of electric light, recently introduced to homes, to be as natural as possible. Thus, he used fixtures and placement to soften the light emitted from a harsh light bulb in order to make lighting more comfortable and inviting. At Taliesin West, a variety of lighting techniques create a distinct and welcoming ambiance through cove, recessed, floor and pendant lighting on display in The Kiva to sconces and aisle lighting seen in the Cabaret Theatre.
- Shared Use: In addition to his design principles, Wright also had firm beliefs when it came to the lifestyle at Taliesin West for himself and his apprentices. The philosophy that has powered some of today’s most buzzworthy companies, from Uber to Airbnb, is based on the belief of shared use that Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship embraced early on. Shared use over ownership was a simple everyday norm of the Taliesin West experience from the use of automobiles to growing and preparing food as a community.
Today, Taliesin West remains a thriving, living laboratory that continues to showcase the innovative use of design and materials. A variety of tours cater to all ages and familiarities with architecture and design from novice to formally educated, allowing guests to see, hear, touch and feel a number of Wright’s progressive ideas in their purest form. For more information about visiting Taliesin West, visit FrankLloydWright.org/Taliesin-West/.