As Chicagoans we are proud of out city's architecture. Apparently Frank Lloyd Wright was proud as well. According to the T-shirt Ken bought today he said, "Eventually I think that Chicago will be the most beautiful great city left in the modern world." I'm not sure what he meant by eventually. In fact the quote makes it sound like all the other great world cities have disappeared in some sort of cataclysm.
Wright began his quest to develop a democratic order of American Architecture in Chicago and the nearby suburb of Oak Park. By the end of his career, he had designed more than 1,000 buildings, with 100 of those structures in the state of Illinois. Frank Lloyd Wright's unprecedented style of design - the Prairie School of Architecture, explored new concepts of space and living art that extend into the 21st century. Chicago and Oak Park are the sites of the largest concentration of Wright's architecture in the world - they are where Frank Lloyd Wright came of age as an architect.
But Wright spent the last thirty years of his life in Arizona where he built Taliesin West, his winter home and architecture school. He arrived here at an age when many folks are thinking about retirement. It was the beginning of the Great Depression and few folks had the funds to hire Wright. So he bought a plot of desert and used his interns to built a road and his winter home mostly from materials on site. This location had no water. As they began to drill a well they went hundreds of feet without success and wanted to stop. Wright was always "right" and he told the diggers to keep going. After about 600 feet they reached the aquifer that still supplies Taliesin today. To generate cash flow he started a school where aspiring architects paid him to be here. Today the school is still here for masters students who pay $40,000/year to learn here and live on the grounds in primitive huts they build on the land themselves or appropriate from the students who came before them.
We've visited a few Wright homes over the years and they have an unmistakable look. Nothing is square; he favors pentagon and hexagon shaped rooms. The doorways are quite low - Wright was a short man - and once you bow down to get inside, the ceiling in the room is high overhead. Wright had great success in Japan and loved the Orient. Some theorize that the "bowing down" was part of the Japanese culture. The garden walls had round Oriental looking doors. The rooms have many small windows up high, which let in wonderful light without making the rooms hot in the Arizona sun. Most of the ceilings were covered with white canvas, originally a local product easily replace. Wright designed the light fixtures as part of the room, rather than separate pieces. Many were tucked into the corners. Much of the furniture is built in. Wright designed it, too. In his bedroom he had two beds. One was out in the open where he would nap and students were free to interrupt him. If he was in the bed behind the partition he was not to be disturbed. When he started the home he had a great desert view, but as civilization approached a row of utility poles ruined it. He lobbied President Truman to do something about it, but his powers of persuasion had their limits. So he raised the walls that faced the poles and enlarged the windows of the home that faced the other way. Today the grounds are beautifully landscaped with all matter of blooming desert plants. Beautiful views in every direction.