“If you foolishly ignore beauty you will soon find yourself without it. But if you invest in beauty, it will remain with you all the days of your life.” ~Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright was one of America’s most profound architects. His homes and buildings are icons of his innovative philosophy of designing in harmony with humanity and the environment. He called this philosophy organic architecture.
According to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, the master designed 1,114 architectural works. Only 532 of those were realized.
One of Wright’s greatest building projects may be the one he never built– the Arizona State Capitol.
In 1938, the capitol had a 4-story expansion. Wright had been wintering at Taliesin West and he was not impressed. At the time, he was working on designs for the illustrious Guggenheim Museum in New York. In his spare time, he worked on an innovative design for a new Arizona capitol building that he called “The Oasis”. The state rejected it because it did not need more government buildings.
The blue and green spire at the corner of Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard and Scottsdale Road was a feature in Wright’s design for “The Oasis”. Developers for the retail center wanted a focal point and chose this spire to erect on the road that bears his namesake.
There are six places in Arizona where Wright’s design philosophy leaves its imprint.
ARIZONA BILTMORE RESORT
Designed by Wright’s protégé Charles McArthur, the resort opened in 1929. McArthur used 250,000 blocks molded from indigenous sand and water and sculpted by a Southwest artist. The original gold leaf ceiling in the lobby and ballrooms were second only to the Taj Mahal. Irving Berlin penned many of his famed songs, including “White Christmas” poolside at the hotel.
GRADY GAMMAGE MEMORIAL AUDITORIUM
When then-president of ASU, Grady Gammage, reached out to Wright about an auditorium for the campus, Wright already had a design in mind. He had prepared designs for an opera house in Baghdad, Iraq that never came to fruition in the Middle East, but instead came to life in the Sonoran Desert. The acoustics are perfectly balanced for unamplified performance with an even flow of sound to every seat.
THE PRICE HOUSE
This winter retirement home was built for Harold Price, Sr. and his wife MaryLou to entertain their grandchildren. It is a true desert dwelling with a roof that is raised from the walls to allow the desert breeze to flow through the home. “A desert building should be nobly simple in outline as the region itself is sculptured,” said Wright. It “should have learned from the cactus many secrets of straight-line patterns for its forms…the manmade building heightening the beauty of the desert and the desert more beautiful because of the building.”
DAVID AND GLADYS WRIGHT HOUSE
Built for his son David and daughter-in-law Gladys, this home has a unique circular spiral design that was a precursor to the Guggenheim Museum he designed in New York. Wright called the plans for this home “How to Live in the Southwest”. The custom-designed concrete block home at the base of Camelback Mountain is raised on columns to provide views of the property’s citrus orchard and the surrounding desert. The spiral design helps cool the house by capturing the wind. The home fell into disrepair and was saved from demolition in 2012. It was purchased in August 2020 by architectural apprentices at Wright’s Taliesin West with plans to restore it and give it a copper roof like Wright originally intended.
FIRST CHRISTIAN CHURCH
Wright created a masterplan for a proposed 80-acre campus for Southwest Christian Seminary in 1950. It would have featured seminar rooms, a library, a Greek theatre, a chapel, administrative buildings, and faculty homes. The school closed and the campus was never built. In the 1970s, the First Christian Church received permission to use the triangular chapel design. Evoking the Holy Spirit and an attitude of prayer, this 1,000-seat diamond-shaped sanctuary includes a roof and spire that soars to 77 feet.
Perhaps the best-known of Wright’s Arizona work is Taliesin West. Wright purchased several hundred acres in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale where he set up an experimental camp in the Arizona desert. He soon added buildings from local materials that he called “desert masonry”. Over time, the complex was expanded to include a drafting studio, dining hall, theaters, workshops, and Wright’s own office and living quarters. He brought in staff and apprentices to teach hands-on architecture. It continues to serve as the home of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the School of Architecture. Public tours are available. Visit FrankLloydWright.org.
All photo credits are from FrankLloydWright.org.