After the last chapters of this small anthology in which some articles dedicated to mountain projects have been re-proposed – by Gio Ponti, Carlo Mollino, Jean-Michel Frank, Not Vital – as the season requires, today’s appointment is instead in a completely different climate, because we take you to the Arizona desert. Let’s go to Scottsdale, today in the Phoenix area, where almost 90 years ago, in 1932, Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) founded the equally famous School of Architecture on his estate, the famous Taliesin West. Shortly before, less than a year ago, the pandemic took over our lives and the pages of newspapers, the news broke that the school was closed due to lack of funding from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which owns it. Since then, no further news seems to have occurred. This is the chronicle. To that experience of life and work desired by Wright, Casa Vogue had dedicated the report that we republish here. It appeared in the April 2005 issue. At other times the magazine has talked about Wright; the promise is to offer you those services too. For fans of the charismatic figure of the American architect, as well as of his work, of course, we recommend the bio fiction that the American writer TC Boyle wrote in 2009, “The Women” (promptly published by Feltrinelli, also in 2009, “Le donne” ). An almost biography because the narrators are gradually Wright’s women, wife, lovers, of which Boyle builds identities. And, icing on the cake, they are introduced by another fictional yet very concrete character: the young Japanese architecture student Sato Tadashi who arrives at the architect’s court in 1932. A wonderful reading between soap and epic. There is in paperback edition. To read, ponderous, but it devours itself. (Paolo Lavezzari)
The entrance of Taliesin.
© Ralph Wenig
To be the creator of prairie houses, architecture that harks back to the pioneering era, and the Broadacre City, an ideal community for individualists, Frank Lloyd Wright lived as a nomad. His career was endless and at the same time very troubled because Wright never failed to amaze and overwhelm those he met. Wright loved to change personal facts (age, lovers, skills) and economic relationships at his convenience. He was furious and lost clients, he got others, but he was always a tireless promoter of himself and his ideas. He published books and drawings to advertise his architecture and did not hesitate to sell his collections of precious Japanese prints to save himself from bankruptcy or to change residence to evade creditors. For Wright, all life revolved around the idea of a vital, “organic” architecture how “democratic”, to free the individual and satisfy all human needs. His residence, Taliesin West, built in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1938, is one of the “highest” results of his art, a synthesis of all the formal and conceptual elements he had experienced in many years of work.
Very young, Wright left his native Wisconsin to seek (and find) fortune in Chicago, also trying New York, Italy and Japan as possible professional fields. In the first of his homes in Oak Park (Chicago) he stayed with his family for nearly two decades. Then he ran away with the wife of a client taking refuge in Italy, where he took care of the publication of his works which, due to their originality, were noticed by Dutch and German architects of the caliber of Berlage, Gropius and Mies van der Rohe. It was not the first attempt: already in 1901 Wright had published the formula of the prairie houses on the pages of the “Ladies Home Journal” and in a short time he had received requests from ambitious and wealthy clients. Often far from his homeland, he loved to return to Wisconsin and hide among the large clan of his maternal family, for which he even changed his name, replacing “Lincoln”, which had been given to him to remember the president, with “Lloyd”, with a double surname maternal Lloyd Jones. Of Welsh origin and in love with the soft and hilly lands of Wisconsin, Wright always sought places capable of awakening that sense of belonging he felt for the land of his ancestors. When, in 1911, he began to build his first country house, the original Taliesin in Spring Green – dramatically destroyed by a fire in 1914 -, he baptized it with the Welsh word for eyebrow, that line of the human face that he found sculpted. in the cracks of the hills. Wright thought of his mansions as eyes opening under the visor of overhanging roofs. With shadowy lashes and variegated windows, he gave breath to his homes and poured light and calm into the corridors and comfortable alcoves.
The living room with the huge fireplace
© Ralph Wenig
In the second and third decade of the 1900s he experimented large complexes and skyscrapers, such as the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo and, with its light tower, the industrial plant of the Johnson Wax Company in Racine, Wisconsin. Well before the success he achieved with the Fallingwater (1934-36), the house suspended above a waterfall in the Pennsylvania woods that made him world famous, Wright began to extend his reach to California. Traveling for years between Japan and America, he passed through the West Coast and built a range of homes for exceptional clients, although he entrusted the management of the construction sites to the young Austro-Californian Richard Schindler. In 1927, the design of a tourist accommodation facility, San Marcos in the Desert, drew Wright to Arizona, where rampant speculation (later annihilated by the Great Depression) tested his personal ambitions.
The door leading to the kitchen
© Ralph Wenig
The architect was over sixty years old when he married Olgivanna Hinzenberg in his third marriage and for a short time settled in Ocotillo, among the cacti and rocks of the desert. Made up of a group of small houses surrounded by a fence, Ocotillo was ephemeral, but it was a first test for the compound that Wright would have built in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 1932 by a group of students and followers. This circumstance was not accidental: without the loyalists who allowed him to survive the years of the Depression, Wright would never have created a collective camp. Architecture and life took shape in perfect harmony: Wright lived as the head of a clan with his wife and children, while the students settled around their shaman, as the American Indians had always done. If this was the model study, Wright was a far cry from the mechanized culture and problems that were engulfing the country, from the Dust Bowl – the drought that turned the cultivated plains of the Mid West to desert – to Pearl Harbor. Wright liked the isolation, the outdoors under the boundless sky and natural materials, fundamental qualities of the national culture that rewarded the individualistic ideology of the pioneers, communitarianism and tangible values.
A shelter built by the students of the architecture school
© Ralph Wenig
In the desert, where everything was lacking (water, sewerage, electricity, but there were cars, which Wright, like Le Corbusier, loved with passion), he built walls with large stones and concrete and had them covered with wooden beams and cloth. Evoking the slopes of the mountains, he employed the diagonal, favoring acute angles and narrow passages. Taking advantage of the colors of the desert and adapting to its climate, he made Taliesin West, where he stayed in the winter, the twin of Taliesin in Wisconsin, where he spent the summer. In Arizona, nature is thrifty and man too must learn to be: Wright thought he had found the right place to train students who flocked to test themselves in building, making music and theater.
A corridor built with large boulders
© Ralph Wenig
Without the easy recourse to modern society, without TV, air conditioning and comfort, the Fellowship group was consolidated, which still today is measured with small buildings, designed, built and inhabited by their young architects. As useful as they are provisional, these structures, which like shelters in the desert they imply a certain ecological awareness, they give voice to the original American dream: to be independent and solitary in the pursuit of happiness.
A shelter built by students
© Ralph Wenig