My study of the works of Frank Lloyd Wright has enabled me to experience 84 sites up close and in person. From California's textile block homes to the subdivision he created in New York State, from Florida Southern College to Taliesin West, his work continues to inspire design professionals after more than 100 years.
Many who follow Wright's legacy closely are concerned about preserving his work. Recently the David Wright home, the house Mr. Wright designed for this son, went on the market. After much angst and loosing two buyers, the home was purchased and will be preserved. A collective sigh of relief was heard by those who champion historic preservation efforts.
And in Oak Park, IL, historic preservationists plan to increase the area around Wright's home site to include the numerous prarire-style homes built in the twenties and thirties. While some are not too happy about the prospects, perhaps making their own home hard to sell, it sets up this zone to protect what is no doubt the beginning of an important and significant American architectural style unlike any others.
Having had the ability to travel and lecture, I have been able to spend a couple of hours and/or sometime a couple of days to visit a Wright building. home or places of worship and ponder what it must have been like to have seen him directing the contractors and crews in the construction of his buildings.
Several places offer tours and provide great accessibility to the property. One example of his work that is very accessible is the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, AZ. If you go, plan to stay in one of the rooms in the original building or in a casita so that you can imagine what it would have been like to stay at the resort during the 40s and 50s when it was THE hotel retort of the southwest. While he may not have been the architect of record for this property, there is no doubt that he was deeply involved with the owners during its development.
It is doubtful that any recent past nor current design professional will have such a legacy as that of one enduring architect, Mr. Frank LLoyd Wright.
Since I first stumbled upon his work in person in a suburb of Chicago like many others, I have been in love with Frank Lloyd Wright. Oh yeah,.. certainly his design work captivates, his love life makes for better reading than any reality show and his creative genius makes others pale by comparison. But it is more than just what he has designed, well over a thousand buildings and structures. It is more than the creation of interior spaces that seem so perfect to live in, so right for each site and so individually, uniquely Wright.
For 92 years, here was a man who continued over and over again to shake off the design norms and break the rules. There were no sacred cows when it came to the design of work and living spaces. Wright was the right man and the right time to force us re-consider how we live and work with a unified collection of materials, designs and methods.
I think it is fascinating to study people who are just different. Wright was different. There is something captivating about individuals who just don't think in the same way as many of us do. Thomas Jefferson was also such an individual, as is Apple's Steve Jobs. These individuals, Wright, Jefferson and Jobs are revolutionaries. They changed the world in their own way. Where does that kind of thinking and creative ideas originate from? I often wonder if this "design thinking" starts deep in the left or right side of the brain.
I am indeed lucky in that I have been able to visit over 80 of Mr. Wright's sites to see for myself, up close and in person his work ...each of these special places of art designed for a variety of clients. Visiting each, I try to image the conversations that Wright might have had with each client about their project, certainly dressed in cape, holding a cane and a perky pork-pie hat. His commanding style most certainly made more than a few clients ponder from time to time if they hired the right person. But once he delivered, few could question his genius.
Recently I had the occasion to visit his Scottsdale home, Taliesin West last week for an evening tour. Colleagues of mine were in town, Sandy, Sue and Lisa and all wanted to see Mr. Wright's creation in far northwest Maricopa County. Arriving before the sun kissed the horizon after a rather warm desert valley day, I grinned like a kid at Christmas at seeing the buildings,... just as I had done so many times before. This time, with the late afternoon light changing to evening amber, each structure seemed to not just be built upon the sand and rock but actually to grow directly from the earth with little effort, roots deep in the bedrock below the desert sands.
We were guided by a rather well-versed docent, an individual who shared his wisdom and knowledge after some ten years of experience as a tour leader for the property. Being on the property and in the spaces as the sun went down behind the distant mountain range was amazing. The buildings began to glow, at first golden in color,...then changing to ruddy red as though they were becoming hot glowing embers. The electrical lighting, something that did not exist when Wright first landed on the site, made me feel secure, comfortable and at home in this desert camp of Mr. Wright's. I tried to envision what a guest might have felt, just waiting in anticipation for Mr Wright to enter the great living room space, perhaps his wife Olgivanna getting ready in their quarters near by to stroll in and to greet their visitors. I imagined classical music floating near the beamed and tented ceiling, likely by Beethoven, being played by an apprentice on the 7 foot grand piano in the living room.
I sat in the living room on the cushions of the built-in seating. Looking around the space, I tried to imagine what Mr. Wright must have been thinking when he purchased the 650 acres out in this far desert location, in fact so far out, that there wasn't even a defined road for the last several miles until one was made to provide access for his Cherokee Red painted automobile. What was going on in his head when he set up camp in this remote space whose only other residents at the time were desert mice, a few snakes, coyotes, and saguaro cactus. Had he designed this desert rock and wood camp in his head as he traveled from Wisconsin with students in tow or, upon his arrival, did it come to him all at once? Was Wright a visionary or genius? Perhaps both.
Being there in the evening at magnificent Taliesin West was such a fine experience. Daylight quickly died out. Night arrived. The sounds of the desert began. The glow of distant Phoenix lighting up the sky to the southwest contrasted with the monsoon storms in the east illuminating the sky like fireworks. And then of course...there I was experiencing these camp grounds. The Wright buildings,... each made of rock, sand and wood, his camp in the desert crafted and all of it together made me love Mr. Wright that much more.
Michael is an award winning interior designer based in Palm Desert, CA. He is a Professional Member of the American Society of Interior Designers and a member of the ASID College of Fellows.
As a Certified Aging In Place Specialist, he creates smart looking spaces that are safe and secure and create homes for a lifetime.
And with thirty plus years in the profession, he has honed his humor, elevated his passion for design and sharpened his wit to not take anything too seriously except his design work.