Frank Lloyd Wright in the Southwest

Recently I spent some time in the American Southwest. I was happy to be able to visit two landmarks in architecture and design: the Arizona Biltmore Hotel, built by Albert Chase McArthur (a former architecture student of Frank Lloyd Wright,) and Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s desert home, studio, and school in North Scottsdale, Arizona.

The Phoenix resort complex (on which Wright briefly consulted in the 1920s) is made up of low buildings — not taller than the palm trees — keeping the view of the sky and nearby mountains open. Though a luxury resort the Biltmore has a very comfortable feel, and the staff seem happy to welcome those who just want to admire the landmark.

One of the most striking design motifs at the Biltmore is the use of repeating patterns of different kinds throughout. The patterns give visual interest and texture. The most famous pattern is one designed by McArthur and sculpted by prominent southwestern sculptor, Emry Kopta. The geometric pattern is said to represent a freshly cut palm tree. The pattern is visible in the photos of the outside and lobby; though quite bold on its own, when it is repeated it becomes more subtle.

One of the dining options in the hotel is the casual spot Frank & Albert’s. Here too repeating patterns are present: 

Taliesin West is intimately bound with its setting in the Sonoran desert of Scottsdale. Much of the materials used to build it are local and simple — the rocks and stones, wood, canvas, and concrete. Many of the buildings are at least partly built into the ground. 

And, of course, the desert light is a powerful influence on the feel of the place. In the studio the light is muted by canvas, preserving but softening the brightness.

Inside Frank Lloyd Wright’s living quarters is his bathroom, which I think is very interesting. The lower parts of the rock walls are covered in horizontal aluminum “board and batten.” The look is simple and clean — and no grout!

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