05 February, 2006

Taliesin West

This afternoon we took a pleasant trip to Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright's Scottsdale project, where a sprightly British expat gave this sprightly British expat, and two other sprightly British expats, a tour of the place. Taliesin lacks the radicalist excitement, and also the melancholy of Arcosanti, and it lacks also the sculptural richness of other FLW work, like the New York Guggenheim or Fallingwater. There has clearly been an attempt to integrate the built form with the landscape, which is something I've written about elsewhere, in the context of post-war campus architecture; here this amounts mostly to low-rise construction around the hills, and a repetition of the 'triangular' form of the nearby mountain in various places.

The interiors are more imaginative. There are some oddities: (apparently) the first lighted aisle in architectural history is found in a cabaret-space here, which also doubles its acoustic properties by avoiding parallel walls and right-angles; two antique grand pianos for Wright, (apparently) trained to 'a concert level', one dating from 1928, (apparently) 'a good year for pianos'; a theatre which replaces the proscenium arch by a series of curtain-racks which can be manually swung out from the sides towards the audience, creating a deep and ambiguous stage-space; stretched-canvas roofs which diffuse the harsh Arizona sunlight inside; and sequences of confined and open interior spaces, which Wright called 'embrace and release' and 'conceal and reveal' for their psychological effects. Outside the sky and desert still dominate, blocking out the tacky faux-Oriental relief-sculptures, crude petroglyphs preserved as 'art objects' (distasteful phrase!), and other pointless addenda.

We were shown a panoramic photograph of the site from the 70s, when boundless and bare, the lone and level rocks beyond Taliesin still stretched far away. Such a vision of desolation, rendered in silvery monochrome, turned out to be one of the more impressive sights of the trip.


John Cowan said...

Conrad, you may be sprightly (I don't know) and you certainly are British, but you are not an expat. To be an expat, you have to have no expectation of returning Home.

Or is there something you're not telling us?

Conrad H. Roth said...

The OED defines 'expatriate' as "a person who lives in a foreign country". It does not mention anything about intentions. Therefore, despite the fact that I will be returning home, I remain an expatriate, or colloquially, an 'expat'.