Oh to be rich and in Phoenix, down the road from Taliesin West.
Phoenix is a sprawl of suburbs, sand and cacti. Before air-conditioning, it was a small town. Now it hosts refugees from the Rust Belt, Bible Belt and Latin America.
Scottsdale is nestled in the southeastern corner of this ‘megalopolis’. Its streets are lined with darkly lit bars, ultra-exclusive resorts and rows of art galleries. For once one believes the ‘Most Livable City’ claim emblazoned on the town gates.
Scottsdale is all ranch houses, wide boulevards and canals incongruously overflowing with deep blue water. On the outskirts of this upper middle class dream is Taliesin West.
Taliesin West was the winter retreat of Frank Lloyd Wright. He founded a school of architecture here and its students built the ranch-like retreat by hand. To this day, the building serves as the school and the headquarters of Taliesin Architects.
Wright had a deep democratic and patriotic streak within him which he incorporated into his architecture. Taliesin West forms a part of his Usonian era, which stood for United States of North America. The Usonian houses were designed to be cheap, durable and eminently livable, a response to the Great Depression and its privations.
Taliesin’s walls are made of cheap concrete, its roofs of canvas and plywood, its windows unglazed. It is proof positive that money has no relationship to a good home. Inside, you feel like Sedona should make you feel: comfortable, refreshed, alive to the possibilities of the space surrounding you.
In the movie theater, a cave of a room walled in by thick stone on all sides, Wright installed upwards floor lighting, indirect lighting, pendant lighting, track lighting. For his cabaret theater, he angled the benches at fifteen degrees to the left of the screen, so that when left leg was placed over right, right arm over your beloved on that side, your eyes would naturally face the screen head on. He also invented path lighting so that late-comers wouldn’t bother the seated.
Taliesin is closed from the outside, open within, the best kind of friend you can have and perfectly suited to its desert surrounds, into which it blends seamlessly.
House by a Road
Compare this with ‘House by a Road’, the Hopper painting I will be seeing at the Arizona State University Art Museum in Tempe, just up the road from Scottsdale. Here, a Victorian-era home, with dark brooding windows, dominates an empty country New England corner.
If anything, this is exactly the type of boxy home which Wright was trying to escape with his American brand of architecture. Did Hopper, too, feel ambivalent to this old style of architecture? Were his paintings a depiction and an indictment at the same time?
Do you prefer Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses or Edward Hopper’s houses?