A Monument to Modern Design in the Arizona Desert

by  Laura Motta | Jul 26, 2019
Taliesin West
Taliesin West / Photo courtesy of the property

Scottsdale, Arizona — and almost every American desert city — is awash in a resurgence of Midcentury design, from stylishly revamped motels to newly opened tiki bars to preservation efforts in gas stations and convenience stories. Here, it started with Frank Lloyd Wright.

Among his most famous designs is Taliesin West, the desert home where he lived and worked for more than twenty years before his death in 1959. Today it’s a museum and the home of Wright’s foundation, but it made news in July for another reason. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with seven other Wright-designed buildings, an honor that took more than a decade — including several failed attempts — to materialize.

Taliesin West was Wright's angular-lined desert “camp," a compound that he and his many visiting students built using stone and sand from the site. A variety of tours let you go behind the scenes, view the property at night, or examine its architectural details. You may even get to see some of the shelters, the self-designed and built structures beyond the main building where architecture students live while they’re studying at Taliesin West, just as they did in Wright’s day.

A recent visit to the site reminded us of Wright’s boundless imagination, and his capacity to be endlessly exacting. In one example, a red concrete square near the building’s entrance is inscribed with lines from Walt Whitman’s poem Leaves of Grass. Wright, unhappy with the way the lines looked, simply edited the poem for a more aesthetic arrangement. 

Artist Studio at Cattle Track / Laura Motta

For some contrast in desert design, head to Cattle Track, an artist collective founded in the 1930s, around the same time that Wright set up shop at Taliesin West. This rambling collection of connected studios is where you’ll find painters, potters, and maybe even a blacksmith busy at work every day of the week. The Andaz Scottsdale — a hotel that makes the most of Midcentury influences, of course — is located just a few miles from Cattle Track, and has a partnership with the community. Look for artist talks at the property, art by Cattle Track artists in the rooms, and easy transportation to Cattle Track itself via the hotel’s house Tesla.

Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa / Photo courtesy of the property

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