Saturday, June 12, 2010

Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Eminent Domain

During my recent Arizona gig, I had the privilege of visiting Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright's house, studio, architectural intern boot camp, and place where he built lots of stuff and then tore it down, just to stay in practice. 

It was a great experience, and if you ever find yourself in Phoenix, I hope you'll make time to visit.  Wright was a genius. 

Now....imagine that you're an architectural genius who has been diagnosed with bronchitis and pneumonia, and you need to find a new winter home, someplace far away from the near-arctic weather in Wisconsin.  Imagine that you settle on a place near Phoenix/Scottsdale, and you buy enough acreage to control the view from your house. 

The view is why you chose the site, built the house, and started the architecture school at that site.  The view of YOUR property.  Remember, you're a genius, and you think buildings should fit their surroundings, both in materials and placement. 

You whip out a masterpiece.  It's exactly what you want. 

The next part I have to piece together from our tour guide and from the internet.  Some government dweeb, long forgotten except for this solitary act of vandalism, decides to invoke his Eminent Domain privileges and run powerlines across your property.  You fight it, you even go to Harry Truman to try to get him to intervene.  The powerlines totally ruin the view. 

(The powerlines erected during Wright's lifetime were much smaller than these monsters, but they were enough to piss Frank off for the rest of his life.) 

The wall to the left was once almost 100% window.  Wright bricked it in halfway up so he wouldn't have to see the powerlines in the distance. 

He changed the main entrance from the front of the house to the back of the house, all to avoid looking at the reminder of the theft of his property. 

This is the man who built Fallingwater, recently voted as the most architecturally significant building of the 20th century.  And even he had to put up with that kind of crap from his government. 

Oh well.  That's enough ranting about Eminent Domain.  A tour of the house, the meeting rooms, concert halls, grounds, and architecture school only costs $24.00, and it's well worth it. 

The guides won't let you take pictures in the living quarters for some reason.  But at one point, our tour leader asked if there was a pianist in the house, someone who could show off the acoustics of the den.  I volunteered, and therefore was able to get my picture taken playing Frank's Steinway.  A rare privilege.
(Organic, natural, architectural materials look great, by the way.  But they are no good at keeping pianos in tune.  I'm just sayin'.....)
I can now say that I've played The Electric Light Orchestra's "Evil Woman" on Frank Lloyd Wright's Steinway, and "Dixie" on Robert E. Lee's piano at Arlington House (See pic below. Long story). 

Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, Arizona.  Go there. 

Pics came from here and here and here and here and me. 


Nick Rowe said...

Fantastic photo journal. Thanks.

When my wife and I were in Scottsdale last year we discovered the FLW house too late to work it into our plans. If we go back, it will definitely be on our list.

I certainly sympathize with Wright (or anyone) with respect to losing their property, but how exactly are we supposed to transmit power? It has to go through somebody's yard or near somebody's home. It's actually refreshing to hear that some famous rich guy couldn't influence the system to his advantage although I'm sure some pencil-necked geek with no regard for private property bothered to survey the full impact of the lines.

There have been several stories in California of new FEMA maps putting people in flood zones but not their neighbors even though the developments were built under FEMA guidelines NOT to be in the flood plain. By "flood plain" I mean the area around a tiny stream that is dry most of the year.

There's a school in Oakland protesting a private cell phone tower on the flimsy grounds it MIGHT be dangerous to kids. That's private property, but the point is the same. NIMBY has become BANANA: build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone.

Eminent domain with respect to private ventures such as shopping malls or baseball stadiums is more egregious.

Anonymous said...

DEFINATELY will remember this for next time I'm in Sun City West visiting my parents. My step-father is always asking where do you want to go? what do you want to do? This will be something interesting AND close by.

B Woodman

Anonymous said...

Just so you know, that wasn't Robert E Lee's piano. His piano is located in Lee House, at Washington and Lee University. What happened was, the original piano, at Lee house, was a gift to R. E. Lee, after the civil war. Consequently, he wrote a letter of thanks to the maker of the piano. The piano maker then advertised how great the piano was by naming it after him, and including R. E. Lees letter of appriciatiation in all of his advertisements. I think around 100 or 200 of them were made. Sorry to burst your bubble, I go to school at Washington and Lee and recently took a tour with the curator for Lee house.