The extreme contrast from the crisp poetic lines of the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan to Taliesin West located in Arizona's Sonoran desert is not surprising considering the architect for both projects, Frank Lloyd Wright, was greatly influenced by Nature (he always spelled it with a capital N), and developed a style known as "organic architecture" whereby the built environment of his design blends with the natural surroundings it is placed in.
The Guggenheim, designed as a vessel for one of America's premier museums, located on 5th Avenue, ultimately became Wright's most iconic piece while Taliesin West is Wright's winter camp where he shared his genius with resourceful architects willing to partake in backbreaking construction in exchange for intimacy with such greatness. Wright didn't begin his odyssey in the desert until the age of 70. His genius graced the earth for nearly a century as he died at the age of 91 with dozens of projects still in the works.
I have had the privilege to visit both of these magnificent architectural masterpieces, but most recently I was at Taliesin West. This was Wright's factory of architecture where he experimented constantly. His students were his workers, as they learned by doing, constantly building and rebuilding.
Coming from a family filled with architects, one story in particular rang home a little more than close. Wright's wife, Olga (Olgivanna), used to say she had to be careful what she said to Wright, a man who needed no more than 4 hours of sleep. "I mentioned that we might consider taking down a wall," Olga was noted for having said, "and he immediately called for the boys to bring their pick axes. Well I said to him, 'at least I thought we might have lunch first.'"
This abundant energy is evident everywhere at Taliesin West, where teacher and student alike originally lived in tents as they sculpted a structure from the sand and rocks of the desert. Allegorical reference to the structure as a ship and the desert as the sea is evidenced in the concrete prow walkway that faces the desert, to the canvas roofs, which afforded perfect natural light for drafting, to the stooped entryways, all of which where inspired from the experience of tent living, and yet lend themselves to the symbolism as the structure as a craft.
Anyone interested in art, should be somewhat of a student of Wright as his built structures, in my mind, where literally huge, functional sculptures. As a matter of fact, at one point in his career, Wright supported his family with income by procuring and selling Japanese art.
Of particular interest to me was the work of sculptress Heloise Crista, whose sculptures grace the grounds of Taliesin West. Be sure to check back here for more on her life and work in the future.
So, if you are anywhere near Scottsdale, Arizona, be sure to make your way to Taliesin West. It will be a life changing event!
By Ruth Mitchell