Taliesin West Tour in Scottsdale, AZ

A very interesting architecture tour + you learn about Frank Lloyd Wright

The view of Scottsdale from Frank Lloyd Wright's home
The view of Scottsdale from Frank Lloyd Wright's home

How much do you know about Frank Lloyd Wright? I certainly knew of him but if my life depended on it I wouldn’t have been able to provide more than a handful of facts – that is until I did Taliesin West tour, his winter home in Scottsdale. It’s a remarkable house and the tour – even if you’re not that into architecture, is fascinating.

Our guide – Skylar was truly outstanding – perhaps in part because he actually spent a few years as a small child on the Taliesin West property when his Dad went to the onsite architecture school. It still offers Masters Degrees to 35 students per year.

Taliesin West enjoys a beautiful backdrop

About Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright was 70 years old when he first came to Arizona. The location, now very much a part of Scottsdale, was out in the boonies and much undeveloped when he arrived.

Interestingly he never spent one day in summer on the property. He would end up spending seven months a year in Arizona and five months at his home and school in Spring Green, Wisconsin.

Taliesin West was built according to his design philosophy called organic architecture whereby buildings are designed in harmony with humanity and its environment.

Stones were used from the property but never rebar. Glass wasn’t used originally – until lots of living creatures moved in during the period the place was uninhabited – and Mrs. Wright suggested glass would be a worthwhile addition.

He didn’t consider grass organic but he added it when families came to live on the property so children had somewhere to play.

Our guide said that Frank Lloyd Wright would have been very happy with the cactus that grew out of the wall
Our guide said that Frank Lloyd Wright would have been very happy with the cactus that grew out of the wall

Taliesin West tour

On the Taliesin West tour the first interesting piece we discussed were the Chinese Theater scenes. There are 13 of them scattered around the house marking transitions from one area to another.

One stop on the tour was his office. To get inside you had to duck, but once through the door there was a sense of space. A canvas roof stretched onto redwood planks provided solid light but no shadows.

He used the term compression and release to refer to the ducking to get into the room and then the feeling you got once inside.

When it came to drawing in this office Wright liked a long, low drafting table; his table is still there and the one we sat around. He liked a low table as it forced people to look at his design from above and not at eye level where they might get a little nit picky.

A Chinese Theater scene marking a transition
A Chinese Theater scene marking a transition
The room where Frank Lloyd Wright did his drawings
The room where Frank Lloyd Wright did his drawings

As we wandered past the fountain you could really see his use of triangles and half triangles, hallmarks of the design of the building.

When he first bought the property there was no water. With the aid of a dousing rod and a lot of drilling – to a depth of 482 feet, water was struck and it is that aquifer today that still provides all the water for the property.

Everywhere you look there are triangles
Everywhere you look there are triangles at Taliesin West

The property sits on a knoll with an excellent view of Scottsdale. On his return one winter, Wright was appalled to find power lines ruining his view (as I would be too.) He offered to bury them but couldn’t because of the type of soils. Instead of enjoying the view every night with his wife he changed the design of the room and looked towards the hills instead.

In some of the private rooms like the living room, bedroom and bathroom you couldn’t take photographs. But they were very interesting rooms. For example his bathroom is very modern by today’s standards as many of the surfaces are made of brushed aluminum.

Other design features in these rooms I appreciated were the way he managed to hide the lighting, the use of interior rain gutters and the long, low horizontal lines he used repeatedly to make a room look larger.

His living room was well used. Every Saturday he would invite past clients and celebrities and have a very formal evening with many of his students serving food. Because of his sociable nature he was very good at getting clients.

The view of Scottsdale from Frank Lloyd Wright's home at Taliesin West
The view of Scottsdale from Frank Lloyd Wright’s home
Some of the property that's been left wild
Some of the Taliesin West property that’s been left wild
An inner courtyard at Taliesin West
An inner courtyard at Taliesin West
Art in the courtyard at Taliesin West
Art in the courtyard 
More sculpture on the property
More sculpture on the property

The concert room at Taliesin West

One room used as a concert hall is considered to be 97% acoustically perfect. Our guide demonstrated by playing notes on the piano – which is tucked into an alcove, and I think it is safe to say that we were all blown away by the quality of the music.

Concert room with low ceilings and triangles everywhere at Taliesin West
Concert room with low ceilings and triangles everywhere
The sound you hear from the piano is 98% acoustically perfect at Taliesin West
The sound you hear from the piano is 98% acoustically perfect at Taliesin West

Other interesting facts we learned about Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright was always carefully attired in a custom three piece suit in case a client ever showed up.

He came up with the design or concept of 1,200 buildings and actually completed 532 of them.

Red tiles were provided to clients whose design wasn’t altered in any appreciable way. Very few were given out.

The tools of his trade only included a T-square, a triangle and sharp pencils.

At the time of his death in 1959, at the age of 91, he had 100 projects on the go.

His architecture school is very communal and requires that you live on campus in Scottsdale for part of the year and in Wisconsin for part of the year. Some students still sleep in tents or small shelters that have been approved and that they have designed.

His design for Fallingwater has been called the best of American Architecture.

Fallingwater in Mill Run, PA
Fallingwater in Mill Run, PA – Photo credit: David Mark from Pixabay

Reserve a tour at Taliesin West

If you want to visit, it is advisable to book a tour ahead of time. The tour I did was a 90 minute Insights Tour and the most popular one. The cost is $35 if purchased in advance.

There are also desert walks, a desert shelter tour, a behind the scenes tour and even more.

Visit the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation website for more information and to book a tour.

Further reading on things to do in Arizona

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

A tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's home - Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona

  1. Love Frank Lloyd Wright, he’s my favorite American architect even though he was supposed to be kinda jerk, I love his designs. Would love to visit this house, I’ve been to 2 of his houses in Pennsylvania and can’t get enough.

    1. @Laurel The fellow who led the tour said that Mr. Wright was quite charming but I think I need to read a few biographies to get the whole story – or find out what his first and second wives thought.

  2. I knew he was a famous architect, but that’s about it 🙂 Very interesting tour. I would love to listen to a concert in that hall…97%! I love all the sculpture. My favorite is the woman with the bow.

  3. Spring Green, Wisconsin is located on the Wisconsin River. This is perhaps my favorite river and canoe it once or twice a year. I did not know he lived there. I did know he spent time in Chicago and designed some properties here. I will have to check some of these out and Taliesin west next time I am in Arizona.

    1. @Ted Next time you’re canoeing perhaps you can just continue ….all the way to Spring Green. I would very much enjoy a visit there. I don’t know if the Oak Park/Chicago homes are open to the public but interesting to see them in a neighbourhood setting.

  4. Love learning new things. I don’t know much about Frank Lloyd Wright, although I’ve heard Americans rave about him. Love his house. If I’m ever in Arizona again (or I should say ‘when’, I’ve yet to see the Grand Canyon), I’ll make a point of stopping and having a look.

    1. @Sophie Frank Lloyd Wright is certainly one of the best known architects in the US but I have no sense of how well known he is outside the country – or how he might have influenced design overseas. I have lots to learn.

  5. Interesting place, magnificent design esp the Falling water in Mill Run and lovely view of Scottsdale from Frank Lloyd Wright’s home.

  6. I wish I’d known about Taliesin West the last time I was in Scottsdale. I really love the organic architectural style. And how awesome to have a small concert hall in your home!

    1. @Dana Can you imagine walking from your bedroom to a small concert hall where you get some of the best sound quality on the planet? I loved the setting, the tour and learning about Frank Lloyd Wright and I’m sure you would too.

  7. Thanks to your post, I’ve learned a lot about Mr. Wright. I’m definitely impressed. It goes to show that we don’t need fancy tools to get the job done. I’d love to see Fallingwater.

    1. @Marcia I wonder what Mr. Wright would think of design by computers and the loss of drafting skills by architects. We designed a house once with an old style architect who always started off by sketching on paper – and never did anything on computers. He eventually hired someone to do a bit of that but to this day he only uses computers for research.

  8. wow, what an excellent tour, the place is spectacular and I loved seeing all the waterscapes, sculpture and that bizarre Chinese collection (whats the history on that?) I would love to tour this building one of these days but this in itself was wonderful, thanks so much for sharing this with us!

    1. @Noel It was a delightful tour and far better than I expected. I know he’d rescued the Chines plaques from an uncertain fate but I couldn’t write fast enough to remember more details. That will teach me to record in situations like that.

  9. Always great to read something about FLW, one of the small number of architects who found a viable and original solution to the essential conundrum of modernist architecture: how to avoid sterile historicism and still build something that people would want to look at AND live in. Thanks for an interesting post!

  10. For a time after our move to the Seattle area couple decades ago, I worked as the publicist for the Bellevue Art Museum and the last exhibit we did prior to my taking another job was an exhibit of Taliesen West and worked with the Arizona facility. I ate, slept and dreamed Frank Lloyd Wright and hate to admit that frankly I was so tired of him and his house that I vowed never to visit it when in AZ. Of course, now reading your post, I am thinking, “Okay, you are over it. . .time to take a tour!” Thanks, Leigh!

    1. @Jackie I think your feelings are very natural. Anything good or bad that we overdose on needs some time and reflection to return to. I would think that you’d love the tour – especially as you know so much already.

  11. I too am a bit Frank Lloyd Wright fan but unfortunately I have only seen his designs in his books! Your pictures from Taliesin West are great…we can get a sense of how he lived. Maybe you could head to Fallingwater for us too Leigh!

  12. I didn’t know much about Frank Lloyd Wright until this post too, Leigh. This home looks like a wonderful way to spend some time touring. I haven’t done any of his tours or seen any of his Midwest homes. I would love to see Fallingwater one of these days though. Those Chinese Theater scenes look fascinating. Forwarding this to a couple of architect friends.

    1. @Mary That’s one of the reasons I like travel blogging as I do experience sights and activities that I might otherwise not make the time to do. If you’re ever in Scottsdale include this trip. It’s a winner.

    1. @Vera We went to Scottsdale to visit family at Christmas but had lots of time to do some hiking and sightseeing. A few years ago John and I did some biking in Tucson – down to Sasabe and then on to Tubac but of course I’d like to revisit one winter – and I’ll definitely let you know when that time comes.

  13. Ah, one of my favorite places! It’s beautiful, isn’t it? And it’s cool to see how he was still working out ideas here – and how he changed things as he came to understand the climate he was in. We haven’t done the desert huts out there yet and really want to – they look fascinating and, of course, the students are still building more!

    1. @Cindy I am so sorry I missed the desert garden tour as they had signed me up but hadn’t told me. Not only would I have liked to see the “huts” but I would have loved to do the garden tour. I know I’ll be back to Scottsdale one day so I’ll do it on that visit. Our guide did mention that the home and property are still evolving and in fact will probably never be finished.

  14. What a great place and an amazing man. I love the copper girl statue. How horrified he would have been to see the power line in view and how unfortunate it could not be buried! And what a spectacularly designed inner courtyard. Amazing.

    1. @Jan Nothing like coming back to a ruined view – and the power lines really do ruin the view. The attention to detail around the property was incredible – though it does help if you have lots of people that can do your bidding.

  15. I have been a fan of FLW since grammar school and knew much about his work because at the time, I wanted to be an architect! Falling Water is my all-time fave though, the way it blends harmoniously into its surroundings and fills the house with the sounds of its namesake! Incredible man and outstanding article!!

    1. @Jeff From architect dreams to travel blogger reality and lots of interesting things in between. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the man and feel compelled to read more. The same goes for Ansel Adams after doing another tour in Yosemite. Tours seem to be a good way of sparking interest.

  16. What a fascinating tour! I’ve been on a Frank Lloyd Wright tour of buildings in Chicago but I have never had an opportunity to visit any of the homes he designed. My book club read Loving Frank by Nancy Horan a few years ago. It’s a fictionalized account of a relationship between Wright and a married woman who was one of his clients but it’s a fascinating read.

    1. @Lisa I think I heard someone else mention Loving Frank. I have just added that book to my list of books to read. I believe he had three wives in total and his last wife was very junior – perhaps 20 years – and ended up living at Taliesin West for years.

  17. I’m a big Frank Lloyd Wright fan and have visited several of his homes and other buildings, but have never been to Taliesin West. I enjoyed reading about your tour and seeing the pics — definitely a place I need to take time to see next time I’m in that area. I’ve visited several of his homes and other buildings in Chicago, Oak Park and Wisconsin where there’s a lot of his work to admire.

    1. @Cathy I had seen one of his homes in Oak Park and I knew about the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix but I hadn’t appreciated anything about the man or what his thoughts were on design. I learned so much and in hindsight wish I’d done the more in depth tour.

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