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Taliesin West – Scottsdale, Arizona

Shelter is at the very heart of what is taught at The School of Architecture at Taliesin.

One of the first activities Frank Lloyd Wright undertook when he created the Apprenticeship Program at Taliesin West was to design a series of triptych tent sites, intentionally plotted across the desert washes in an orientation that complemented the communal buildings then under construction. Each of the student apprentices was responsible to organically integrate into the wash and construct a foundation for their own four-sided canvas Shepherd’s tent at one of the sites. The tents consisted of a simple steel skeleton draped with light canvas, and provided about ten square feet of habitable space, which was just enough for a bed, a side table, and a chair.

Taliesin West was once a sacred site for the Hohokam; you can still find ancient petroglyphs there. When Taliesin West was first built, there were only dirt tracks between there and Phoenix; now the site sits on the edge of a metropolis with over four million inhabitants. From Taliesin West you can see the whole Valley of the Sun, a basin sixty miles across; you can also hike directly into the McDowell Mountains State Park.

Life in The Sonoran Desert: Taliesin West

When Frank Lloyd Wright first encountered the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, he was instantly enthralled. He said, “The desert has a cathartic effect.” What could be more architectural than the lessons of the desert? Wright was immediately aware of the desert as the connecting link between land and sea and he commented on the similarity of the life forms of the coral reef and desert bajada. Wright saw the Sonoran Desert as an opportunity to introduce students to natural processes as the basis of design. The desert is devoid of design theories. The plants and creatures of the desert have only one agenda—survival—and their solutions are essential, simple, and beautiful. Wright saw the desert as the ideal environment in which to observe nature’s working, and Taliesin West is a testament to his vision. When the Taliesin Fellowship arrived at the foothills of the McDowell Mountains, they found a landscape empty of current human habitation and the amenities of urban life. First pitching tents on the mesa, the Fellowship, under Mr. Wright’s direction, began construction of work and living spaces, which referred to as “camp.” Taliesin West retains major features of a winter encampment.

Its buildings are basic structures, constructed of the desert itself. In recent times, air conditioning and year-round occupancy have required the enclosure of some spaces originally protected from the elements only by canvas and wood. Students today are provided with the continuous opportunity to experience, with all of the senses, the desert as a distinct bioregion and to learn from its unique climatic conditions and the adaptations made by its plant and animal inhabitants in order to survive. Residential life at Taliesin West continues the experience of the pioneering Fellowship and ensures that students develop a profound understanding of the desert environment and the impact of natural phenomena on the design of buildings. Students live on campus at Taliesin West during each winter season (with the exception of students studying abroad). At Taliesin-West students are encouraged to sleep in the desert in a shelter, one of many that dot the varied 500-acre landscape on the periphery of the campus.

Each year, students are afforded the opportunity to remodel, rebuild, or construct new shelters within a specific procedure. Students constructing new shelters are expected to live in them. Participation in the Taliesin educational experience implies acceptance of the risks of living directly in the natural environment of the desert. Fireplaces may be found throughout both campuses and in many shelters.

Students may request to live in more permanent structures based on space availability. Several residential rooms exist at Taliesin West for use by students with mobility issues or particular sleeping requirements. A limited number of units are available for students with partners and for family units of two or more individuals.