My first Frank Lloyd Wright experience was shortly after college, when my mother and I visited Fallingwater, the iconic house he designed for Edgar Kaufmann, and Wright’s nearby Kentuck Knob, both in rural southwest Pennsylvania. I’ve since returned to both sites, my enchantment with the architecture, site development, and every intricacy that Wright controlled not waning – even as I must admit that Wright’s personal life was less than exemplary. I probably would want to kick the man, but I so admire the architect. Though the weather was a bit chilly when I was in Chicago last weekend, it was postcard perfect when I visited Taliesin a few years ago.
There are many excellent biographies of Wright floating about, so I won’t attempt to provide a pocket history of the man and his peccadilloes. He is, despite his boorish behavior toward many of the people in in his life, one of the most important and influential American architects of the late-19th and 20th centuries. What draws me to his work is his seamless blending of the structure itself with its site, and the myriad of delightful ways in which a house flows into the natural world around it. Wright’s home and studio near Spring Green, Wisconsin, known as Taliesin (or Taliesin East), is a superb example of his organic approach to design.
Wright began work on Taliesin in 1911, and it was the embodiment of his Prairie School style of architecture – “low, wide and snug” as he described it.
Following a fire (and horrific murders) in 1914, Wright rebuilt Taliesin, with the same sprawling stone walls, intersected by stucco balconies, and a rambling, low shingled roofline. Large windows bring the outside in – and one of my favorite elements (integral to Wright’s work) is this connection between the land and landscape and the building.
Wright reminds me of Thomas Jefferson in a way – both had beloved homes with which they constantly tinkered and rebuilt. A second fire at Taliesin in 1925 forced yet another rebuilding (though financial woes, a perennial problem of Wright’s, delayed this task).
I am not a Wright scholar – nor do I very often work with architect-designed buildings. But I am a big fan – and although Fallingwater is a masterpiece of siting and design, the setting at Taliesin is perfect. If you have any reason to be near Wisconsin, it is a detour worth making – despite all of the heartache and drama that unfolded there, it is a relaxing, lyrical, and magical place.