As the plane banked into Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, the Phoenix-area’s budget-conscious point of arrival, I saw the grid of lights that defines every western American town at night fade into the darkness where I knew, but couldn’t see, there were mountain and desert. I retrieved my rental car and wound my way through sleeping suburbia, its parking lots of the big box stores empty, and the gray and putty-colored monotony of the human-made landscape blurring all around me. Then I crossed the Arizona Canal—with its apparition of water brought from far away—rose up onto the mesa, and found myself in the oasis that is to be my new home.
The next morning I woke up to discover Taliesin West alive with color and sound, and with people making breakfast and sitting down at their drafting tables. I was in an oasis, a place where humans had articulated and were devising new ways to live, not only in the desert, but also in all the diverse landscapes that we in this country have now converted into sprawl.
I am moving to Taliesin West to become dean of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture because I believe in that task. I think that architecture must be way a way of understanding both the human-made and the natural world so that we can use our knowledge, tools, and judgment to make that world better—more sustainable, more open (or democratic, as Wright would have called it), and more beautiful.
As I walked from my temporary home to the compound where dining, kitchen, and drafting room flow together, I also realized I was moving there because it was so beautiful. Being at Taliesin West rekindles my love of the basic building blocks of architecture, those structures at the intersection of landscape and interiors that frame us, bring us together, and shelter us in a manner that gives us pleasure and even joy.
Frank Lloyd Wright did not have all the answers. But, he engaged in a life-long search through architecture on how we can build such beauty in a manner that contributes to the improvement of our social and environmental well-being. Subsequent generations have, with greater or lesser success, carried on his experiments. Now a new generation of designers, thinkers, drawers, builders, and explorers is trying to figure out what structures—physical and virtual—they can build (the students still have to construct and inhabit their own shelters), both in that place and on the results of that work.
I look forward to being part of those experiments—and to waking up in Taliesin West every morning.
For more coverage on Taliesin West and the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, please read ARCHITECT's Q+A with Aaron Betsky.
Aaron Betsky is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.