Tuesday, 12 September 2006

Architecture v Architecture: Frank Lloyd Wright's 'Taliesin West'

Extreme climates are an invitation to produce radical solutions in order to make a home for man in a place that offers no welcome. Frank Lloyd Wright maintained that the aim of architecture is to make nature more human, and human life more natural. Humanising nature when all it offers is the inhospitable is a triumph indeed. Tonight here on 'Not PC' our architecture debate continues with the third of PC's top five favourites: Frank Lloyd Wright's own home in the Arizona Desert, Taliesin West.

In one of the most inhospitable habitats known to man, in the desert north of Phoenix and sitting just beneath the McDowell Mountain Range. there we find a heightened sense of life writ large; a life built in a particular context that fits SO WELL it could be nowhere else. Whereas with Fallingwater one gets the sense that there man has completed what nature had just suggested, at Taliesin West we realise that in this place man has produced something that make an oasis out of what was before only raw desert; a place with "a view of the rim of the world."

From the moment Wright saw it, he was attracted to the "vast battleground of titanic forces called Arizona." And, also, "the eternal and everlasting smile of the sun."

Built when air-conditioning was available, but not yet popular, Wright intentionally eschewed it. He wanted the house to breathe, and he created an environment in which occupants and visitors could breathe free and savour what the architecture had made of this inhospitable location.

As we walk through Frank Lloyd Wright’s own desert home, I'm reminded of Hamlet’s question: “What is a man? If the chief good and market of his time be but to sleep and feed? Away! A beast no more.” This home is not the home of beast just barely surviving out in this inhospitable domain. This is the home of a man, a man who by means of his own ingenuity has conquered the inhospitable desert, and made out of the material of the earth on which it stands a startling oasis for the soul. A home for man in a place where nature once excluded him.

The building crouches lithely beneath the mountain range, its roof pitch, asymmetry, and construction somehow echoing the sheltering hills. The sharp features echo the small, sharp details of the desert plants.The big, strong, simple masses of ‘desert concrete’ fix the building to the landscape with material made of that same landscape.

<The large, fit stones gave the walls a raw, earthy, almost jigsaw quality. [Arnold] Roy [Taliesin Fellowship member] said: "Somebody once asked, `What did Frank Lloyd Wright have on the walls for decoration?' The walls were decoration.

The building invites you in to gentle breezes, to the smell of citrus, to water-cooled air, to canvas roofs stretched over cypress roof beams with translucent yet gentle light filtered beautifully through the material.

The visitor is invited into and through the building by the ingenuity of the architecture itself: from a distance it offers the visitor a ‘target,' and at each turning point as the visitor winds his way into the heart of the house another vista is offered up, and a choice offered: come this way or that. And at each node along the journey there is shade, and rest, and cool breezes, and a reappraisal of where one has been, and where one is going.

This is human ingenuity in architecture at its very finest, and the very opposite of classical, centralised, symmetrical, forced architecture – instead this is relaxed, organic, ingenious human architecture that "makes nature more human and human life more natural."

In this place, Wright hasn’t just ‘made do.’Instead he’s celebrated what man can do in such a setting.

It is a masterpiece. One of the finest homes ever built.

RELATED: Architecture

1 comment:

  1. PC - I'm swamped today so unfortunately I'll have to leave number 4 in the series until tomorrow lunchtime. Apologies for any disruption to the schedule.



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