A Tale of Two (Frank Lloyd Wright) Homes

“Taliesin West” (1938-1959) | Frank Lloyd Wright's drawing

Taliesin | Photo by Andrew Pielage

Taliesin, Hillside drafting room (1933) | Frank Lloyd Wright's drawing

Explore Taliesin and Taliesin West to discover how the differing surrounding influenced the design of each home

Taliesin and Taliesin West may share a name and architect, but Frank Lloyd Wright’s summer and winter properties are far from alike, by design, thanks to nature.

Taliesin: An autobiography crafted of wood and stone, built to echo the sprawling Wisconsin hillside.

Taliesin, Wright’s primary home for 48 years, is perched amid 800 acres of rolling hills outside Spring Green, Wisconsin, on land homesteaded by his Welsh grandparents. Built into the side of one such hill, instead of squarely atop it — taliesin is Welsh for “shining brow” — the residence was constructed using limestone from a nearby quarry for the foundation and many walls, to mimic the appearance of natural rock outcroppings throughout the area.

Following Wright’s predilection for using locally sourced materials when possible to help ensure buildings existed in harmony with their environment, Wisconsin River sand was also mixed into plaster to give other walls a golden color to the stucco, while windows frame the splendid river valley views like a Japanese screen. Floors were constructed from waxed cypress, and the cedar shingle roofs were designed without gutters so that “icicles by invitation might beautify the eaves,” as Wright put it in his autobiography.


Pictured below: 1) Frank Lloyd Wright directing construction at Taliesin. 2) Taliesin in 2015 by Andrew Pielage.


The harsh, rocky McDowell Mountain range provides a marked contrast from the rolling, verdant hills in Wisconsin’s driftless region

Taliesin West: A desert utopia designed to reflect the sweeping expansiveness of the surrounding landscape.

By the late 1930s, however, he wouldn’t be around to witness that winter beauty. Usually shortly after Thanksgiving each year, he and members of his Taliesin Fellowship would decamp to Arizona, where in 1938 Wright purchased the 160 acres of Sonoran Desert land that would become Taliesin West.

The harsh, rocky McDowell Mountain range provides a marked contrast from the rolling, verdant hills in Wisconsin’s Zone, and for Taliesin West the architect drew inspiration from the angled stone and hardy native plants, praising the fluted columns of the saguaro and the “welded tubular construction” of cholla branches. To make it look as if Taliesin West had risen from the desert floor, its walls were created of desert masonry — large, irregularly hewn desert rocks mixed with concrete— set within redwood formwork, flat sides facing outward.

Taliesin West’s buildings are kept low to the ground — mimicking “Arizona’s long, low sweeping lines,” as Wright wrote — to help provide effective natural ventilation, as well as protection and shade from the desert sun. Because the property was used first only during the temperate season, certain areas including Wright’s drafting room and the music pavilion had only canvas panels strung between redwood trusses to serve as roofs.


Pictured below: 1) Taliesin West Pavillion in construction. 2) Taliesin West in 2016 by Andrew Pielage.

Taliesin West Pavillion in construction

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Taliesin West