Art & Architecture in All the Wright Places
Internationally renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright came to Scottsdale in 1937 and began building his winter camp, Taliesin West that year. Wright created a new form of desert architecture and established a legacy that is seen at the headquarters of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. Visitors from all over the world come to Taliesin West, a National Historic Landmark and the living laboratory of Wright’s ideas.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation is getting a head start on celebrating a milestone birthday of the iconic architect, who would turn 150 on June 8, 2017, if he were still alive. The foundation has made many renovations to Taliesin West over the years, as well as adding new tours to give visitors the opportunity to experience Wright’s winter home as he would have many years ago. As part of the renovations, Wright and his wife Olgivanna’s kitchen and bedrooms were restored to their likenesses from 1959, the year Wright died. The wing — adjacent to the site’s famous living room that Wright called the “Garden Room”— was fully restored and remodeled to return the masonry and structural work to their original appearances.
To celebrate Wright’s would-be 150th birthday, the foundation launched two new tours of Taliesin West – the Garden Walk and Private Collections tours – where you can discover these renovations and peek into what inspired the genius architect’s creativity. Walk the garden pathways overlooking the stunning Sonoran Desert Landscape on the Garden Walk Tour and learn about the native and non-indigenous plants that thrive in this extreme climate. In addition, the Private Collections Tour takes visitors behind the scenes into Wright’s collection vault to see his finest and rarest personal artworks.
Wright’s vision and influence are seen throughout Scottsdale, and one of his most noted designs is the spire at the northwest corner of the Scottsdale Promenade shopping center in North Scottsdale. Originally designed by Wright for the Arizona State Capitol building, the structure is 20 feet wide at the base and 125 feet tall. It is framed with steel, painted in a copper tone, glazed with plastic and illuminated internally at night.
Wright is often credited for the design of the famous Arizona Biltmore Resort built in 1929. In fact, he was a consultant on the project with the lead designer, Albert Chase McArthur. The resort has become an architectural landmark, and it is one of Arizona’s most well-known sights. Wright and sculptor Alfonso Lannelli also masterminded the Biltmore Sprites, which greet guests as they arrive at the Arizona Biltmore Resort. These geometric architectural statues were conceived in 1914 for the specific purpose of adorning and watching over Midway Gardens, once a center for entertainment, dining and music on Chicago's lakefront. Most of the sprites met a premature and unfortunate demise during Prohibition, but the remaining pieces were later donated to the Arizona Biltmore, which has been their home since October 1985. Replicas of the sprites can be purchased at Taliesin West.
Shortly before he died, one of Wright’s final designs was built in nearby Tempe, Ariz. In 1957, Arizona State University President Grady Gammage approached Wright about designing an auditorium for the school. Wright designed ASU Gammage based on earlier renderings for an opera house in Baghdad, Iraq, that was never built. ASU Gammage celebrated its opening season in 1964, five years after Wright’s death. The auditorium features two long ramps that extend from the second level of the theater out into the parking lot. The ramps are dotted with lamp posts formed into interlocking circles and arches. These ramps were meant to be "arms" welcoming people to Arizona. The project incorporates multiple shades of terra cotta with accents of aqua and teal, and it is meant to be nearly acoustically perfect. Seating more than 3,000 people, ASU Gammage continues to host touring Broadway shows, musicals and stage performances.
One of Scottsdale’s premier resort properties, Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain enjoys a legendary history with links to the Wright legacy. With its clean lines and minimalist approach, Sanctuary represents the cosmopolitan side of Scottsdale and is often viewed as a new breed of Scottsdale resort architecture. However, this property is rooted in Scottsdale history, as it was originally designed by architect Hiram Hudson Benedict, a protégé of Wright, in the 1950s as the Paradise Valley Racquet Club, owned by actors John Ireland, Joanne Dru, Sydney Chaplin and tennis legend Don Budge.
The developers of Sanctuary are also the masterminds behind one of the nation’s best-preserved examples of mid-century modern architecture, the historic Hotel Valley Ho, which was designed by former Wright apprentice Edward L. Varney. Originally built in 1956, the hotel reflected Scottsdale’s true cosmopolitan nature, with much of the original property featuring minimalist Wright-inspired design elements. At the time, the hotel housed 99 rooms centered on a courtyard pool. An $80 million comprehensive remodel in 2005 included a rehabilitation of the original hotel, construction of a new room wing that brought the total accommodations to 235 rooms and suites, and the addition of a seven-story tower with five upper levels devoted to residences.
Vernon Swaback, a former student of Wright’s, also has left an indelible mark on Scottsdale’s architectural landscape. He spent more than two decades studying and working at Taliesin West, and over the past 30-plus years, has been involved in the design of award-winning master plans for hotels, office buildings, recreational facilities and custom homes throughout the Phoenix/Scottsdale metropolitan area. His firm, Swaback Partners, designed Spa Avania at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch. Spa Avania, derived from the Greek word for tranquility, is a 21,000-square-foot facility with 19 treatment rooms, five exterior treatment gardens, a mineral pool, a lotus pond, relaxation lounges and more. Swaback has also penned several books about living and building in a suburban metropolis.
The late Italian-born designer and visionary Paolo Soleri came to the United States in 1947 and spent nearly two years in fellowship with Wright at Taliesin West and Taliesin in Wisconsin. During this time, Soleri gained international recognition for a bridge design displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In December 2010, Scottsdale became the home of the first and only Soleri-designed bridge. The Soleri Bridge and Plaza in downtown is the second pedestrian bridge connecting the Scottsdale Waterfront and SouthBridge across the north and south banks of the Arizona Canal. The bridge, framed by a 22,000-square-foot plaza that serves as gathering place for special events and performing arts, demonstrates the importance of solar movement.
Soleri’s Scottsdale connections go further. The designer made Scottsdale his home in 1956 with a life-long commitment to research and experimentation in urban planning. He established the Cosanti Foundation, which is a not-for-profit educational organization. The foundation's major project is Arcosanti, a prototype town for 5,000 residents that has been under construction since 1970. Located at Cordes Junction in central Arizona, the project was designed by Soleri and based on his concept of "Arcology," architecture coherent with ecology. Arcology advocates for cities designed to maximize the interaction and accessibility associated with an urban environment, minimize the use of energy, raw materials and land, reduce waste and environmental pollution and allow interaction with the surrounding natural environment.