This year marks 80 years since renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright staked his claim in the desert foothills of the McDowell Mountains and began building his winter home and studio Taliesin West, thus creating his Arizona legacy.
Wright first arrived in Arizona in 1928 to consult on the Arizona Biltmore resort. The following year, he worked on the promising San Marcos-In-The-Desert project in Chandler that was squashed by The Great Depression. Yet, Wright felt so drawn to the desert, he returned a decade later to build Taliesin West. His experience in building Taliesin West changed him personally and heavily influenced almost all of his work that followed, using canvas roofs and building for the climate, not just the surroundings.
“I was struck by the beauty of the desert, by the dry, clear sun-drenched air, by the stark geometry of the mountains; the entire region was an inspiration,” Wright said of his first visit to the state. Adding that, “Arizona character seems to cry out for a space-loving architecture of its own,” he said in his 1932 An Autobiography.
Decades later, Wright’s designs and principle are more relevant today than ever before and are alive in the buildings he worked on across the Valley, which continue to define how we live in the American Southwest today. Some of Wright’s notable designs in Arizona include:
- Taliesin West (Scottsdale, Ariz.) – Wright’s winter home and desert laboratory, Taliesin West, is now home to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the School of Architecture at Taliesin. It is considered one of Wright’s most personal creations and among the purest expressions of his architectural principles. Construction of Taliesin West began in 1938, using the sand and rock from the site to seamlessly rise from the desert floor. Public tours of Taliesin West are available. For more information, visit http://franklloydwright.org/taliesin-west/.
- David & Gladys Wright House (Phoenix) – Designed by Wright in 1950 for his son David and daughter-in-law Gladys, the home appears as a spiral rising from the desert and is one of four spiral designs created by Wright, including the iconic Guggenheim Museum in New York. The house is regarded as his last residential masterpiece. The home was recently donated for the benefit of the School of Architecture at Taliesin and is currently not open for public tours, but virtual tours are available. For more information, visit http://davidwrighthouse.org/.
- Grady Gammage Auditorium (Tempe, Ariz.) – The only public space designed by Wright that was built in Arizona, Wright was commissioned by then Arizona State University President Grady Gammage to build a cultural and fine arts building. Wright selected the precise location for the building and created it to be circular in design to symbolize outstretched arms saying, “Welcome to Arizona!” In 1957, Wright adapted a design for the auditorium from one he originally intended as an opera house in Baghdad, Iraq. Construction began in 1962, three years after his death. Today, it continues to operate as the university’s performing arts center. For more information, visit https://www.asugammage.com/about/history.
- Harold C. Price, Sr. House (Paradise Valley, Ariz.) – The largest Wright-designed home in Arizona, the Price House was created for his beloved patrons Harold and MaryLou Price, for whom he also designed his tallest project ever built, the 19-story Tower for HC Price Company in Bartlesville, Okla. Designed as a winter home for their six grandchildren to visit, and nicknamed, “The Grandma House,” MaryLou worked with Wright to find ingenious solutions for how the family would interact with each other, the home, and their desert surroundings. The home is maintained by the Price House Foundation and is available for tours by appointment only. For more information, visit http://pricehousefoundation.org/.
- Arizona Biltmore Resort (Phoenix, Architect of Record: Albert Chase McArthur) – Though the extent of Wright’s involvement with this project remains unclear, the Arizona Biltmore Hotel and Cottage complex is generally recognized as a collaboration between Wright and McArthur, a former draftsman in Wright’s Oak Park studio. McArthur, who is responsible for the main design of the hotel built in 1928, called on Wright to consult on the project and provide permission to use his concrete block system employed in several California houses. For more information, visit http://www.arizonabiltmore.com.
- “The Oasis” (Phoenix, Unbuilt) – Wright notably shared his pro-bono vision to rebuild the Arizona State Capitol in 1957 and named it “The Oasis.” The design featured a honeycombed glass canopy, hexagonal towers and a towering spire. He presented the design to local dignitaries to no avail and the building designed as the original capitol stands today. In 2004, a spire inspired from this design was erected in Scottsdale at the intersection of Frank Lloyd Wright and Scottsdale roads.
For more information about Frank Lloyd Wright, visit http://franklloydwright.org/frank-lloyd-wright/.