Taliesin West (with kids!)

This has been the longest, weirdest summer ever and our our trip to AZ in June feels like years ago. But I realized I never wrapped up our Arizona architourism adventures (previous posts include CosantiArcosanti, and the Chapel of the Holy Cross). Only a few months late, I’m here with the granddaddy: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West. We have stopped by before but were never able to tour until now and it was so worth the time, money, and sweat. If you ever are in the Phoenix area you must take a tour!

I highly, highly recommend that you bribe children into coming along with you so you can get in on the Junior Architect Tour (which may only be available in summer?). Whether the kids enjoy it or not, it’s tons-o-fun for adults and you cover a lot of ground, more so than I think you do on most other tours, the most important thing for this childish architecture-obsessed adult. I think we saw almost every building/room except the dining room, the cabaret theater, and a close look at the student residences.

The day we visited was in the 120’s, enough to make me seriously consider skipping our visit, so you can imagine my surprise when my kids toughed it out made it through the tour. But they did! And sort of enjoyed it. At least more than the quick, unguided Eames House visit that my children claim was the worst day of their lives. My son had a terrible rocky start but our tour guide, Don M., was wonderful, patient, interesting, and engaging with even the crankiest kid (MINE).A little history. FLW was in his SEVENTIES when he began building Taliesin West in 1937, and the campus remained a work in progress until his death in 1959. Imagine! He had opened an architecture school, Taliesin, in Wisconsin in response to dwindling architecture business during the great depression. His (much younger third) wife, a calculating behind the scenes string-puller from what I can gather, saw out of work tradespeople using the lull to take on apprentices and recognized it as a business opportunity for her husband as well. Taliesin West served as the school’s winter home.

The campus was built tucked into the foothills on the outskirts of Phoenix. The actual forms, the walls, are strikingly beautiful, built with rocks found on site and concrete, making the building truly one with its land, as all organic desert modern structures should be. The most exciting thing about the design to me, maybe obviously if you know me, is the abundance of crazy angles. (And abundance of fireplaces…) Unexpected and wacky angles jut out all over the place. Even in doorways. And the doors are all short. FLW was a short guy and didn’t consider the height/comfort of those taller than him…or maybe it’s all just part of his compression/release masterplan.

Tours start in the bookstore. Our first stop was FLW’s office. Best door. (And if you notice blue tape all over the buildings it’s because summer is repair/repaint time at TW.) Next up was the iconic reflection pool. Then we looped around the front yard, passing beautiful angle after beautiful angle… Then we reached the living room, AKA the Garden Room, used for Sunday social gatherings with the students, basically a lesson in manners and socializing and dancing (all the reasons I would drop out….). The furniture is futuristic, all Frank Lloyd Wright designs. I loved that it was a touchy tour and we could give the furniture a spin. What a lovable space!Next we saw the bedrooms and a meditative little courtyard. Olga’s first, then FLW’s. Hers: small, no bathroom. His: large, private bathroom. It was in his bedroom that a “highlight” occurred. We are all hanging out in FLW’s bedroom. Kids are laying on his beds. (Beds: The one on the left side of the partition is for uninterrupted sleep and one on the right is for okay-to-wake-me-if-you-need-me naps.) The adults are casually snooping around every corner, checking out the weird bed, the cool desk, the rock fireplace, the spacey aluminum bathroom. We walk out. A TW employee passes us on her way in and asks if we saw the rattler. That was apparently coiled in the corner of the fireplace the entire hang out. NBD. This may be an everyday occurrence to desert city dwellers, but I was so fascinated that the fire department was called in for the snake removal and relocation via snake grabber pole thing and bucket. Here is my kiddo contemplating life mere feet from a rattlesnake:Next stop was this amazing courtyard/fountain, the Kiva pool, and then the Kiva, basically a filming room (FLW’s usuals: westerns) with dramatic lighting that was years ahead of its time. Well lights are built into the floors and hidden uplights create mountain-like shadows on the walls. The room itself isn’t below ground, as a traditional Kiva would be, but it gives off that vibe. It was dark so I didn’t get great photos, but it was a beautiful room. Next up was the bell tower and a peek into the drafting studio, where actual students work and photographs aren’t allowed.Then we checked out the citrus grove and walked through these beautiful red doors into the music pavilion, the impressive interior of which I apparently didn’t photograph. TW is sprinkled with this signature orangish red and I can’t get enough. We got to walk by some of the student residences on our way back to the bookstore. Students live on site in a tent for the first years of their studies. As they progress, they are given an option to design and build their own small shelter on the property.Our tour concluded inside one of the student reading libraries, also not photographed, but thanks stranger for the family pic proving we survived.Even the parking lot is gorgeous. And the gutters…I’ll say it again, don’t miss this place if you have the opportunity to tour! It is a masterpiece.

In regular life news, I’m sorting out so many house projects to share soon. Legit baseboards. New furniture and rearranging. A semi-landscaped front yard. And (home)school starts next week so the pressure is on! See you soon…

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