Being Frank…

“When nature has work to be done, she creates a genius to do it.”  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have been a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic architectural design since my college days, when I took an “Introduction to Architecture” elective which turned out to be my favorite class.   As one of the greatest architects of our time, what’s not to love?   But his work has always resonated with me more than other architects, even Alder and Sullivan, Wright’s mentors, or other Modernist greats like Mies van der Rohe or Le Corbusier.   It was not until recently, after I began to appreciate nature more through reading Emerson and developed a greater appreciation for the perfection of nature that I realized it was Frank Lloyd Wright’s passion for nature that attracted me to his work.   He once said “I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.”   He believed that nature itself was architecture.


Taliesin West Entrance Gate


In true Wright fashion, you have to look around to find the front door.

As much as he thrived in an urban setting, embracing the urban lifestyle, he also loved the desert so much that he built a camp in the McDowell Mountains and lived in nothing but a canvas tent.  He later incorporated the elements of this tent camp into Taliesin West, including the sunburned desert stones embedded in sand and concrete and translucent white canvas as a roof to diffuse the bright desert sunlight.
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Wright had a passion for Oriental art, so bits of it are incorporated at Taliesin West.

This close natural relationship between the house and landscape is Wright’s hallmark.   “Form follows function was misunderstood.  Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.”  Whether it was a museum in the middle of Manhattan, or a canvas camp in the middle of the Sonoran desert, Frank Lloyd Wright still found his inspiration from nature…truly a man after my own heart.IMG_2043 IMG_2035So I couldn’t come to the Sonora desert without a stop at Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home from 1939 until his death in 1959.   I signed up for two tours, the “Night Lights” tour which only takes place on Friday nights, and the “Insights” tour first thing the next morning.   One thing I learned from my Fallingwater visit – always sign up for the very first tour of the day, or your photos will be filled with the tour group in front of you and behind you!IMG_2058


The huge Music Pavilion where concerts, dance performances, and student family events are held.

But “to be frank, Frank,” of all the Wright buildings I have visited so far (only 6) this one was my least favorite.  I think that is because it was a “campus,” and therefore a hodgepodge of different enclosures, from Wright’s own spartan, tiny bedroom to the massive Music Pavilion, Cabaret Theatre, and dining hall, it lacked the intimate feel, continuity, and personal details I have come to appreciate in his design of private family homes.

"Night Lights Tour"

“Night Lights Tour”

"Dragon in the Desert" outdoor lamp.

“Dragon in the Desert” outdoor lamp.


Wright’s drafting studio is now onsite Architecture School.

Since Taliesin is at the foot of the McDowell Mountains, the beautiful McDowell Mountain Regional Park was the perfect location to park the Winnie, just a half hour drive through Fountain Hills to the edge of Scottsdale.   The RV spaces were perfectly groomed – When’s the last time you had an RV site that had been raked?   The park was spacious, well kept, and offered miles of hike and bike trails.   The temperatures were on the rise, so I only stayed a weekend, but this little gem of an RV Park is definitely worthy of a repeat visit.  (Thanks to the WatsonsWander blog for this great recommendation!) IMG_1995 While I was in Phoenix, I also visited another of Frank Lloyd Wright’s works, the Biltmore Hotel, where he served as consulting architect.   Although they have reportedly tried to keep many of the public spaces true to Wright’s design, there is surprisingly little about the architect on display.   I found a small plaque next to the stained glass mural that Wright designed, as well as a “History Board” that was focused more on the famous people who had stayed there than the famous person who designed it.

Arizona Biltmore Hotel

Arizona Biltmore Hotel

Lobby of Arizona Biltmore Hotel

Lobby of Arizona Biltmore Hotel

Aztec Ballroom, with copper beams and gold leaf ceiling.

Aztec Ballroom, with copper beams and gold leaf ceiling.

The name of the stained glass mural is "Saguaro Forms and Cactus Flowers"

The name of the stained glass mural is “Saguaro Forms and Cactus Flowers”

Being in Phoenix always takes me back to the corporate scene back in the 80’s, when my employer, who has a large presence in Phoenix would throw lavish sales meetings in hotels like the Biltmore, with unlimited open bar service until all hours of the night, which would typically end up with pantyhose floating in the pool.   These annual meetings always included a trip to “Rawhide” out in the desert where we would drink tequila shots with our senior leaders until we would fall backwards off the hayride.   Then drive back to the hotel and drink some more.  This is such a stark contrast to the same company twenty years later, where I have to get two levels of approval to buy a box of pencils, and the mere mention of tequila feels taboo in the workplace.  I sometimes feel sorry for the new kids that are just starting in the corporate world, because they will likely never know what that “eighties extreme opulence” was like.  Whether it’s parties, pencils, or people, we are now the company that “does more with less…”

“Less is only more where more is no good.”  ~ Frank Lloyd Wright IMG_2001

12 thoughts on “Being Frank…

  1. I feel as uncultured as pasteurized milk; I’ve never seen any of the Wright structures. I did see Chapel of the Holy Cross – loosely associated with and inspired by Wright’s work – and I read “Loving Frank.” That’s it. I didn’t even know about Taliesin West.

    Now I know about the first-tour rule.

    • Roxanne, I am laughing out loud, because I had just finished “Loving Frank” when I was at Caballo Lake. I almost asked if you would like it, but I thought “Nah, Roxanne wouldn’t read such trash.” haha!! So I left it in the Catalina SP Lending Library. They told us on the tour, the reason for the pool of water is because Frank had a fear of fire after Taliesin burned. And we know “the rest of the story,” that his is illicit lover burned down with it. Sad tale indeed…they were both very bold to live a life of their dreams back then…

  2. Stunning as always, Suzanne … I had no idea the corporate has changed so much?! oh, baruther do I remember the non working part of the working part… that’s what made it tolerable! take that away? oh, man…

    What a beautiful tour. That kind of desert is very different than the more southern part and eastern … I just like the green and reds and BLUE blue skies … the colors in the Sonoran desert are like a painting ….

    • Hi, Carolyn…yes, it is like two different cultures, for sure. There used to be a slight element of fun in the workplace, but I have not experienced that in the past five years. And agree about the Sonoran desert. It surprises me, but I think I am gonna miss it as I move north…

    • Yes, Dave, one of my favorites! In fact, I did a post when I visited Fallingwater titled “Architects may come and architects may go…” 😉

  3. We skipped the Taliesin West tour because we were too cheap to pay the per person fee! I really wanted to go, but we already had splurged on concert tickets and ate out a few too many times. This full time travel thing can be so expensive! So glad you didn’t cheap out like us, and I got to see it through your eyes, or rather your lens. What a cool place! Also glad that you enjoyed McDowell. Looks like you must have stayed in the new loop with bigger sites.

    • Hi, Amanda, and thanks for stopping by the blog! Yes, I always feel bad for people who have to buy two tickets, because it is expensive enough to buy one! I would say it was a good call on skipping Taliesin West, unless you are a diehard Wright Fan. I would save my $$ for one of his private homes, like Fallingwater (of course,) or the Darwin Martin House up in Buffalo (albeit a bit far north, probably my fave so far.)

      Thanks again for the great WatsonsWander post on McDowell. Had I not seen it, I may have missed out. I was in Site #19. I am not sure that is part of the new loop? It was at the curve, way up at the top of the hill, so it seemed very private. The only downside was that it was a bit close to the playground, and on Easter weekend, there were a lot of happy shrieks coming from that direction. 😉 Otherwise, it was a nice big private site. Thanks again for the great info!

  4. Enjoyed your ‘then and now’ overview of the corporate world. You are so right. Working for a Fortune Top 50 company I remember celebrating service anniversaries going to restaurants having a few drinks then heading back to work. Holidays were a blast at work too as we’re Fridays!
    Nowadays people would be fired if they did what we did on a regular basis.
    There is no such thing as fun at work any more. Just make the numbers that’s what it’s all about. Short term results and we will worry about long term later!
    Can’t wait to get out of this hamster wheel!


  5. G — Thanks for following the blog. Yes, I can still remember the “tipping point.” It was when we were told we could no longer have baby showers on company property, because “not everyone had the same opportunity for a baby shower.” HAHAHA!! Crazy world, these corporations!

    Hi, Barb — Thanks for the comment. If you ever get up to PA, I would say “Fallingwater” is worth a stop if you ever come east. Especially if you are ever out there in the fall… Hope things are well with you and Katie!

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