Archive for March, 2011

FLW’s vision for the Arizona Capitol

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Frank Lloyd Wright had a vision for the Arizona State capitol building, topped by a wonderful spire. It was never realized as a building, but, in the past few years, the city of Scottsdale built this wonderful spire in Wright’s honor, along with an associated shaded plaza.

The plaza contains some of Heloise Crista’s sculptures that are also in Taliesin West. Given Wright’s part-time life in Arizona, some of the surrounding buildings have been inspired by his architecture. (They’re not as good as FLW, but close.)

The sun plays with the tower as does inner lighting . I have seen it internally lit and will try to find some of those shots in the future–it’s wonderful. The corner posts that hold the overhead cover are also inspired by the wonderful wheat patterns that Wright created in the Midwest. Even the bus stop is FLW-inspired.

The plaza is a great tribute to one of Scottsdale’s finest and the greatest American architect.

St. Xavier Mission in Tucson

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Discovered by Jesuit missionaries from Spain in the late 1600s, St. Xavier Mission was first established as an outpost. The Jesuits were later kicked out and the Franciscans took their place.

The mission is a wonderful relic of old Spanish Arizona. The site almost looks as I would imagine it in the 1600, with little development. When the Spanish left due to absence of gold, they left their missions in ruins, but this one has been well taken care of and was recently refurbished inside and out. The art inside depicts Catholic saints and, of course, pays homage to the Virgin Mary. Some statuary has what looks like Franciscan friars.

The door handles and the details of the architecture are wonderful examples of a Spanish mission. Now I want to see similar sites in Mexico and California.

Our firm is working on a project for the Native Indian tribe that has their reservation there. They were called Papago and now called Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation: People of the Desert. Their reservation spans an area into Mexico and I believe they can cross easily from the Mexican area to the U.S. area. They are very proud of the mission, its history, and its people. A book in the gift shop showed how they lived here in a peaceful fashion till today.


Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Arcosonti is the desert encampment of Italian architect Paulo Soleri. Located about an hour outside of Phoenix, I have visited there just about every year for the past 2o years. Over that time, I’m sad to say I’ve seen very little progress on the vision that Soleri had for his self-sustaining community.

Like Talliesin West, Arcosonti is an architect’s vision of a live-in school that teaches architects about design. On this particular visit, there were 36 trailer homes that contained a school from Denmark touring the US via Route 66.

Arcosonti is most famous for its cast bronze bells designed by Soleri and featured in the gallery here and in Scottsdale. The bells were the linchpin of a major fundraising effort for the school over the years. I have a half dozen at my home and office clanging in the wind.

The buildings of Arcosonti sit on the edge of and face into a valley. The most dominant building is the casting kiln for the bells with its arc and unique shape on top.

The students own their own crane that has the word Arco Santi on the front bumper. Like Taliesin West, this has always been a site under construction, but, in this case, it will never be finished. The model shows a grand vision for this otherworldly place that looks like a space station on Mars from a science fiction movie from the 60s. Although we were not allowed to explore on our own, we snooped and enjoyed the climb onto a roof and through the living part of the campus.

I hope the school will live on as Taliesin since it is certain that the students learn well about the fluid nature of bronze, concrete, and steel.

(Buy some bells; they’re wonderful.)

A visit to Taliesin West

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Taliesin West is the Arizona branch of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s school based in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Wright came to Arizona in 1937–while in his 60s–to establish this experiment in the desert to teach students about architecture.

Wright’s students built Taliesin West. He wanted them to live in the open air to learn about building architecture that reflected and complimented nature.

One of the things to know about desert architecture is that it is an icon. There is nothing like a forest or verdant landscape to distract from human creation. That said, he was very keen on using indigenous materials to integrate architecture and nature. (Taliesin itself means “shining brow” in Welsh, the language of Wright’s mother.)

The rock with Native American symbols was the inspiration for Wright’s personal logo, which you can see it in the symbol on the tower and on the gate to Taliesin West. He used it as a signature for his studio on his homes.

Wright was influenced by Japanese prints and design for many years after living in Japan while designing the Imperial Palace hotel. (Unfortunately, the hotel was demolished in the 1970s to make room for something benign and uninteresting. It had survived two earthquakes and would have made it through the most recent one, too.)

Wright worked with many artists and sculptors. The original sculptures on site are the work of Heloise Crista–now in her 70s–who studied architecture with Wright but became a sculptor. I love the spirit of her pieces and how they show the inner soul of the person. Some were influenced by art deco, and others were more organic. The Asian sculptures on display came from a sale that Wright found in San Francisco. I saw almost an identical dragon sculpture in Japan. The sculpture garden at Taliesin makes for a wonderful spot in the sun. Notice how wonderful the sun reflects the highlights.