Thursday, February 21, 2013

Scintillating Scottsdale

Buildings echo the triangular shape of the mountains.
 David and I are having trouble deciding where to go this summer.  It's more expensive to stay in the Banff/Jasper/Lake Louise area of Canada than it is to vacation in Western Europe, the weather in Mexico is much too hot in June to tour the Maya ruins, and flights to Hawaii take forever.  But there are dozens of other places that will fit our tightwad budget, be cooler than Arizona, and be a relatively quick plane ride away.  If only we could determine where that perfect place is. We've been deliberating for weeks.

So, we did what any normal people would do when faced with a difficult choice.  We chucked all decision making for a weekend escape in Scottsdale!
Taliesin Living Room - Wright created most of the furniture.  Notice the recurrent triangular design.
We drove up on a Friday morning, arriving in time to take the one o'clock "Signature" tour of Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright's winter estate.  Wright, the father of "organic architecture" who believed that a building should develop out of its natural surroundings, spent almost thirty winters here in a pristine 600-acre desert area not far, today, from downtown Scottsdale.

The name Taliesin, Welsh for "shining brow,"  reflects Wright's belief that the best spot to build a house is not in the valley, where one never has a sweeping view of the valley, or on top of the mountain, which destroys the view of the mountain itself, but right on the "forehead" or "brow" of a mountain so that the views of both the valley and the mountain are maintained.  He succeeded with Taliesin because there are sweeping views of the desert while the McDowell Mountains stand guard behind. The house itself also reflects its surroundings, of course,  with pointed triangular shapes to echo the mountains, and swaths of grass, gardens, and pools to lead the eye toward the valley beyond.

Inside the house and the neighboring buildings used as classrooms for the smallest, accredited architectural school in the United States (never more than 36 students), Wright's philosophy is evident everywhere.  He believed that a room should surprise with its spaciousness, so the entrance to most every room involves a small, narrow hallway that "compresses" the visitor before "releasing" him into the expansive larger space.  He built most of the furniture to be practical and aesthetically pleasing with its repetitious triangular angles, and both his bedroom and his wife's have moveable walls to expose the rooms completely to a private, walled garden.  In the auditorium is another of Wright's inventions, indirect lighting.   Aggravated with latecomers who interrupted concerts with annoying flashlights, Wright dug into the floor every few feet to install lights.  Then he covered the lights with--you guessed it--triangular shades.
Biltmore Hotel Lobby
David and I were so impressed by Wright's philosophy and influences--indirect lighting and open concept living/dining/kitchen areas to mention only two--that we decided to visit another of his designs, the Biltmore Hotel.  It did not disappoint.  We wandered the grounds, admired the lobby, and took so many photos I was afraid we'd be asked to leave for creating a nuisance.  Eventually we discovered  happy hour, where a feast for pennies was served in the lovely dining room or outside on the patio warmed with a blazing fire pit.
Biltmore Lobby
Indecisiveness didn't seem such a bad thing after all. It had gotten us to this place where we could watch a gorgeous sunset while eating delicious pulled-pork sliders and sipping lavender-lemon cocktails.  We still don't know where to go this summer, but on that perfect Friday night, we really didn't care.

Practicalities -

Click here for lots more information about Taliesin West.  You can also order tour tickets on-line at this site.

Happy hour at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel is from 5-7:00.   

Since David had a meeting in Scottsdale on Saturday morning, we spent the night at a particularly pleasant La Quinta Inn-Arcadia in Phoenix.  The Inn was close to Taliesin West and the Biltmore, cost less than $65, and served an enormous breakfast that allowed us to skip lunch altogether.