Pages Navigation Menu

Lasting Touch: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fingerprint on Arizona

Remnants of Wright

The desert fascinated Frank Lloyd Wright.  New York World-Telegram & Sun dedicated to the public all rights it held for the photographs in this collection upon its donation to the Library. Thus, there are no known restrictions on the usage of this photograph.

He once described the nature of Arizona as that of a “cry out for a space-loving architecture of its own.” He peeled back the flesh of saguaros to study their ribs, which would inspire him to invent his own support column design.

Wright left his fingerprints all across Arizona. He personally designed at least 26 projects in Arizona, with 17 of his designs recorded to have been built. However, only 11 built projects stand, all within the Phoenix area, while at least nine of his designs for Arizona have yet to come to fruition.

One of his designs, the David Wright house, located in Phoenix and named after his son, recently escaped an ominous fate.

 

New York World-Telegram & Sun dedicated to the public all rights it held for the photographs in this collection upon its donation to the Library. Thus, there are no known restrictions on the usage of this photograph.

 {flash width=”450″ height=”400″}slideshows/_lloyd_wright/_Lloyd_Wright/soundslider{/flash}

Saving Wright

In June 2012, ownership of the property fell into the hands of people uninterested in preserving the house, let alone in the significance surrounding it. Phoenix realtor Scott Jarson of Jarson & Jarson whose firm focuses on architecturally unique properties and who listed the sale was contacted by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy.

David Wright house in Scottsdale, Arizona. Photo used under Creative Commons license from Flickr user elisabethdunbar.

The David & Gladys Wright house in Scottsdale, Ariz.


Photo by elisabethdunbar from Flickr used under Creative Commons license

Jarson said the owners wanted him to “help them find somebody to buy the home, and give them a healthy profit, and then step out of the way.” Original plans were to destroy the property for redevelopment, but the owners were unaware of the depth of passion the threat of demolishing the house would inspire.

“They knew about Wright; they were not particularly scholarly about his endeavors, and to them it was just an old house in the way of their development,” said Jarson.

By September the transition went sour when the owner’s understood Phoenix intended to make the house a historic property.  Debate over preservation grew louder after The New York Times wrote about the home.

Inspired by FLW

The circular design of this Tucson, Ariz. home appears to have been influenced by that of the David & Gladys Wright house

 Photo by Anthony Vito 2013 ©

Jarson worked with the Conservancy and found potential buyers, “but the money wasn’t enough for them – they wanted more.” In the end an out-of-state individual bought the house in December 2012. “It was the combined efforts of many,” added Jarson.

Jarson will be involved in the future stages of forming a preservation non-profit for Frank Lloyd Wright’s legacy and work in Phoenix. “This coverage and this battle has led to a much greater awareness of not just Wright’s work but generally the modern architecture that is in Arizona.

Another view of the David Wright house in Scottsdale, Arizona. Photo used under Creative Commons license from Flickr user dbostrom

Another view of the David Wright house in Scottsdale, Ariz. 

Photo by dbostrom from Flickr, used under Creative Commons license 

Taliesin West

Though Frank Lloyd Wright’s career spanned more than seven decades, his time in Arizona began midway through his life. He was born in 1867 and died in 1959. Of the 1,141 buildings he designed, just over half of which were built. Of those 409 still stand.

Photo of Taliesin West by InSapphoWeTrust, used under Creative Commons license from Flickr.  

Photo of Taliesin West by InSapphoWeTrust from Flickr, used under Creative Commons license
 

Wright’s most significant example of work in Arizona is Taliesin West. In 1937 he purchased 160 acres on the southern face of the McDowell Mountains near Scottsdale, and the complex Taliesin West began to grow slowly from rugged camp into desert masonry elegance.

The materials Wright used were as important as the designs they constructed, and at Taliesin West “Wright used rock from the surrounding desert to build walls of “desert masonry,” according to Christopher Domin, associate professor at the University of Arizona and chair of the Master of Architecture program.

Photo of Taliesin West by BellaEatsBooks from Flickr, used under Creative Commons license
 

Photo of Taliesin West by BellaEatsBooks from Flickr, used under Creative Commons license

Domin describes the masonry as “rocks placed within wooden molds, flat faces out, filling the space around them with rubble fill before pouring the concrete.” When the molds were removed, walls with endless mosaic patterns were revealed, their aesthetic and color suggesting they had grown from the desert floor.

Domin said “the changing patterns created by shifting light and shadow” constantly redefines Taliesin West.

Drawn to the desert

In 1928 Wright, who was known for his domineering personality “reluctantly consulted on the design for the Biltmore” the luxury Phoenix resort said Domin. One of Wright’s former students, Chase McArthur, designed the structure. It remains a staple of luxury hotels since its opening on Feb. 23, 1929.

“It’s the only existing hotel in the world that can make that claim, that Frank Lloyd Wright directly influenced it’s structural composition,” added Domin.

In April 1928 while consulting on the Biltmore, Wright began talks of building San Marcos-in-the-Desert, a Biltmore style resort southeast of Phoenix commissioned by Dr. Alexander J. Chandler, who founded the city in 1912.


A original drawing of San Marcos-in-the-Desert from an online exhibit of the Library of Congress. Drawing courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Wright was so enthused by the concept that by May of that year, he had an idea for the resort in mind. Located on 1,400 acres at the base of the Salt River Mountains, the site emphasized depth and open views of endless desert space.

A example of Frank Lloyd Wright “inspired” architecture. This particular Tucson, Ariz. home evokes Wright’s ability to integrate his designs into their desert surroundings, similar to his Taliesin West

Wright used the triangle and the dotted line as the architectural themes, drawn from the surrounding mountains and plants of the desert. Although this project went to full working drawings, it was abandoned when Chandler lost his backing in the stock market crash of 1929, and was never able to recover financially.

Wright’s Unrealized Plan For Tucson

“The drive-in bank.” Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1947 drawing for Vallet National Bank branch in Tucson, Arizona.

  (Pfeiffer, Bruce Books. Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly, 8 (Spring 1997), 24.)

Eventually, Wright became frustrated by metro-Phoenix, “though he still was infatuated with the desert” said Domin, who added “he became fascinated with Tucson.” Domin notes that Wright had personal friends in Tucson who motivated his local interest. With the end of the war in 1945, many apprentices returned and work again flowed into the studio, including a design for a Tucson bank. 

In 1947, Wright designed a drive-in bank for Valley National Bank, located in Tucson. The circular building features a prominent copper dome with skylights that would allow for natural light to illuminate the main banking floor and through a circular well exposing a giant vault in brass relief and copper featuring the bank logo. The use of copper, a common metal of the state, too reflects Wright’s pension for utilizing materials inspired by the natural environment.

Wright’s revolutionary ideas are reflected in this design, as it was among the first to ever feature the concept of drive-up teller windows. The bank did not believe customers would grow comfortable to the concept of banking in their cars, and thus it was never constructed.

Inspired by Wright

VCC

Aerial view of Loews Ventana Canyon, demonstrating a sectioned layout similar to what Wright planned for San Marcos-in-the-Desert

 Photo by Anthony Vito © 2013

smcos

Digital rendering of San Marcos-in-the-Desert from an online exhibit of the Library of Congress courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Many other buildings and residences across the state draw inspiration from Wright in their designs. The design and architectural themes of Tucson’s Loews Ventana Canyon Resort bear striking resemblance to those depicted in Wright’s drawings of San Marcos-in-the-Desert. Corrugated wall patterns and building forms were constructed using split-faced masonry block evoke the finalized drawings of San Marcos-in-the-Desert.

Loews Ventana Canyon Resort  

Photos by Anthony Vito 2013 ©

A portion of the resort spans an existing canyon stream, another design feature reminiscent of Wright as he often explored the interplay of water with his construction, the greatest example being Falling Water in Southwestern Pennsylvania. 

Falling Water, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photo used under Creative Commons license, taken by Flickr user Spike55151

Falling Water, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

Photo by Spike55151 from Flickr, used under Creative Commons license

The proliferation of Wright’s designs can be seen through the works of other Arizona architects. “His lineage as an architect can be traced to solid foundations in experiment and acuity,” said Jarson. Architects like William Bruder, who interned with Paolo Solari , who himself apprenticed under Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West have emulated Wright’s architectural themes throughout their own work.