Daybook · On Design & Art

Daybook: Frank Lloyd Wright, Master of Sprawl?

This past weekend, I visited Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture school, in Scottsdale, Arizona. I'm a big fan of FLW's architecture –the first I ever visited was the Zimmerman House in Manchester, New Hampshire, and I've been to Oak Park, Illinois, although never to Fallingwater.

Anyway, the tour guide was a former student of the architecture school, and he was fantastic.

At one point, he had us turn our back on the school, and face out into the quiet Sonoran desert. The sun was starting to set, and it was really quiet. He asked us to try to picture what it would have been like in the late 1930s, when the school was first under construction  No power lines bisecting the horizon, no terracotta roofs visible at a distance. And then he said that Frank Lloyd Wright liked to be away from civilization as much as possible –the line was, and I'm paraphrasing, go as far as you can from the outskirts of town, and then go 10 miles further.


This took me aback, since the canon of eco-friendly planning these days, as I understand it, is to create high density, walkable communities with housing and retail blending together –smaller footprint, less fuel usage, etc. etc. That was not Wright's notion of perfection, it seems. Broadacre City was his concept for a suburban development,  one that would be lower density (1 house per acre) and depend entirely on the automobile for transportation.

It seems Wright had a fraught relationship with the notion of sustainability, which is interesting for a guy who fairly worshiped nature. (Quote: "I believe in God, only I spell it Nature"
)  The buildings were constructed out of concrete made from desert sand, and rocks found nearby.  Natural, local materials were the mantra, and yet, as we turned back from the desert and walked into the house, we made our way past two things never found naturally in the desert: a green lawn and a tinkling fountain.

You can see a few other images from my Taliesin West visit here.


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