[more] Connections…

A week ago this past Monday, Martha and I had the privilege of visiting Taliesin West and meeting with Dottie O’Carroll, Vice President of Development and Communications for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and Fred Prozzillo, Director of Preservation at Taliesin West, for a private tour. Our tour was followed by a lively discussion over a delicious lunch focused largely, but not exclusively, on the topic of preservation. We concluded our visit by enjoying an expertly-crafted latte served from a relatively new addition to the property, Royal Coffee Bar, (more on this later in the post), before scooping up a handful of DVDs from the bookstore/gift shop and heading back to the Byrne residence to enjoy a spectacular sunset!

…it may be hard to believe, but we did enjoy a spectacular sunset, though the day started with rather ominous skies, as Martha so aptly captured in this wonderful photograph.

Photograph by Martha M. Bills
Fred began our tour near the entrance to Taliesin West, which is graced by a two-story gate-like sculpture containing a hammer slipped into the concrete form as a prank. As Fred explained, one apprentice had been boasting about the quality of their new tools, so the other apprentices decided one of those tools – the hammer you see in the photograph – should become a permanent part of the structure. The story goes that FLLW saw the hammer and decreed it remain in place, so it did!

Photograph by Martha M. Bills
This next image is of the exterior of the Wright’s personal quarters. One of the DVDs we watched several evenings later described the style of these massive concrete walls as “desert rubble masonry” construction. While the appearance might be viewed as random, we learned every single wall was deliberately laid out, stone by stone.


Small, so-called “goose eggs” were used to prevent the concrete from seeping down across the face of the larger boulders. You can see examples of this technique being applied in the following two images, (below), taken by Martha out closer to the entrance.

Photograph by Martha M. Bills

…and a close-up of this technique I captured several weeks later on a subsequent visit we made, (below).

This next image is of one of two pieces of sculpture created by Clare Boothe Luce hung at Taliesin West. There are two of these panels in the Living Room, (also referred to as the Garden Room), and we found both of them to be remarkably contemporary in terms of style, despite the fact they were created decades ago!


Martha captured this next image as we were making our way between buildings. I was struck by the vividness of the blue and turquoise glazes, despite the fact these panels are older than I am! These ceramic panels are embedded into exterior walls in multiple locations – I wonder what these particular four figures are peering at? 😉


This next image, (below), is of the roof and surrounding walls of the building known as the Cabaret, or the Stone Gallery.

This was the second purpose-built space intended for performances, movie viewing, lectures, etc., at Taliesin West. What I found so fascinating about the building was how fantastic the acoustics were inside. Fred demonstrated the so-called “sound board” supporting the grand piano tucked into an alcove using the mechanism typically found inside a child’s music box. He wound the device in the open air and you could hardly hear it, but when he placed it on the edge of the piano and wound it once more, the sound projected clearly up through the entire space – I was astonished!

Martha captured this image by sighting down the north wall of the Royal Coffee Bar building, looking east toward the Stone Gallery.


I mentioned Royal Coffee Bar earlier, founded by Hayes McNeil, founder/principal of Plus Minus Studio. Hayes and I exchanged emails about 2 1/2 years ago, shortly after Martha and I wandered into the Red Door Spa and experienced a Royal Coffee Bar for the first time. We were captivated by the thoughtful design, clever use of materials and visually-pleasing layout of the space dedicated to the coffee bar. A few months later, we got to experience a second location inside UNION at Biltmore Fashion Park. More recently, we happened upon a third location at Heritage Square in downtown Phoenix, and I’m sure at some point we’ll make our way to the Tempe location as well!

While I truly appreciate a great double espresso, (and we have yet to be disappointed by anything we’ve tasted at Royal), the reason I mention these coffee bars has to do with the incredible structures Hayes has designed for each location. In the case of Taliesin West, it’s an entirely self-contained cube that’s been clad in charred wood and framed in corten steel with perfectly-placed apertures letting natural light flood inside.

Fred shared this wonderful model, (captured in Martha’s photograph below), of what’s referred to as the “historic core” of Taliesin West – basically the group of buildings that were constructed during the two decade long period between 1938 and 1959. This model is composed entirely of Lego bricks, and measures some eight feet down either side – it’s huge! The model splits into five pieces so it can be shipped, and it will eventually go on tour, but for the time being, the model is located in a building referred to as the Music Pavilion, the last of three performance spaces constructed at Taliesin West, and one of our last stops on the tour that day.


These last two photographs contain examples of more “desert rubble masonry” wall construction found at Taliesin West. Martha’s images contain glimpses of the expertly-placed boulders within each wall – the blend of color, texture, size and scale cannot be fully-appreciated unless you are standing right there in front of these wonderful masses…


The skies began to clear as we prepared to depart – a perfect backdrop to a cluster of magnificent buildings we had the privilege of visiting after many, many years!


Oh, right, I almost forgot to explain the “connection”…

It’s related to the upcoming tour in late April. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation reached out toward the end of 2014 with a request to include the Byrne residence as part of a larger weekend-long event the foundation has planned for a group of art & architecture enthusiasts.

After we’d responded with an enthusiastic “yes” to include the house as part of what should prove to be a very, very special weekend, Martha and I were invited to join Dottie and Fred for an afternoon at Taliesin West, hence this post.

…and the real treat – for us – will be having Will Bruder lead the tour of the Byrne residence in late April!

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