A Visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin

This blog post was originally written for the Managed Design blog. Managed Design is now a U.S. CAD company, so please check back here at www.uscad.com/blog for more written articles from Philip Charlson and our new U.S. CAD Minnesota team.

Like so many other architect enthusiasts, I would describe myself as a big fan of the designs of architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. Earlier this fall, I was fortunate enough to take a  tour of Taliesin in Spring Green, WI. It was the home and design of Wright from 1911 until his passing in 1959.

top of the hill web

During the tour, our guide gave us a lot of interesting info about the property and Wright himself. The 37,000 square-foot building has three sections that wrap around a hill. Wright designed buildings to flow with the land and never wanted to build on top of hills. The guide mentioned that he owned around 3,700 acres of land. It is said that Wright truly lived off the land, with over a 1,000 fruit trees and bushes along with other crops to harvest. Wright also dammed a creek, which resulted in the creation of an artificial lake. The lake served to create a hydroelectric dam for powering Taliesin before the State of Wisconsin extended electricity to the site.

There are many unique features to the house including Wright’s use of materials from the area in his design. He used limestone from the nearby hills, sediment from the Wisconsin River, and trees from the area to construct the house.

Wright’s use of varied spatial design was also something that made him unique. He designed the main living areas to the average heights of people. Coming from a guy that stands over 6 feet tall, my head nearly touched the ceiling when I walked into the house. In contrast, other areas he developed were very open, spacious rooms.

wright studio web

Wright’s Taliesin definitely has an interesting past. Many people don’t realize that it has actually burned to the ground twice. Once by arson, killing 7 people on the site, and second by lightning. Amazingly, he rebuilt the property the same way each time. Both fires burned down the living quarters, which also burned many artifacts he collected over the years when he was in Japan designing and helping construct the Imperial Hotel.

birds eye web

This was an inspirational location and space for Wright, and it was an amazing feeling being in the work space of one of the greatest architects of the 20th century. Some of his best known buildings were designed at this site including Fallingwater and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

In 1932, Wright developed the Taliesin Fellowship where a small number of apprentices could come to the site to study under the architect. Once Wright built Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1937 the fellowship migrated between the two sites each year. The fellowship stills exists to this day; there are currently 20 students that pay approximately $40,000 for the year for the opportunity to learn architecture from some of Wright’s prior students. Several of these students are now in their 90’s, and some still residing yearly at Taliesin.

drafter desk web

There is constant restoration of the site, and it is listed as a National Historic Landmark. Over $11 million has been spent on the restoration. Tours are given between May 1 and October 31 and roughly 25,000 people visit the site each year. If you plan to visit, my advice is to make reservations because tours fill up fast. I found the tour to be fascinating. There were many parts of the building that we didn’t see in the two-hour tour, but it gave us a real sense of his design intent. We truly saw a lot of history in those two hours that are just too difficult to describe in words.

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