After almost eight decades of constant use, Taliesin West is ready for a makeover. The Scottsdale, Arizona site was Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home, studio, and architecture school. Today, the campus houses the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture and is also a popular tourist destination, with over 100,000 visitors annually. Now, time, climate, and footsteps have taken their toll on the landmark.
A combination of heavy use and the complex’s desert environment have left Taliesin West in need of significant restoration, as well as accessibility, sustainability, and safety upgrades. As a first step towards remaking Taliesin West, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation has selected Chicago firm Harboe Architects to prepare a preservation master plan of the site.
“[T. Gunny] Harboe and his firm rose to the top of a truly extraordinary field,” Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation CEO and President Sean Malone said. The selection committee—which included Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation staff leadership, its Preservation Committee, and a Preservation Oversight Committee made up of five outside experts—chose Harboe Architects from among more than forty contenders. “Harboe had such a remarkable understanding of Wright’s work and this particular project,” Malone said.
Harboe will undertake a year-long study of Taliesin West, a National Historic Landmark site constructed between 1937 and 1959, to determine the scope of the restoration (including cost and timeline). Through research, multiple site visits, and a cultural and structural history of the location, the preservation team will answer two questions: what needs to be restored and why.
“Why is a really exciting question,” Malone explained. “Part of the project is [defining a] preservation philosophy. Then once we make those decisions, that’s going to drive the decision about how.” Besides Harboe, the team also includes Michael Henry, of Watson and Henry Associates, and Dorothy Krotzer, of Building Conservation Associates.
Harboe’s team faces particular challenges in preserving a site that was never meant to be static. “Taliesin West is more complicated than a lot of sites because change over time was an inherent part of the story,” Malone said. Unlike other Wright sites (except Taliesin, the architect’s Wisconsin home and studio), the Scottsdale campus was not built for one particular time. Instead, it was designed as a laboratory, a space within which ideas about architecture could develop and change. “It’s a living place. Its evolution is part of its history,” Malone said.