Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the most influential architects in modern history. Known for drawing heavily on nature for inspiration, Wright absolutely loved Arizona's desert landscapes. In fact, he even said that "Arizona needs its own architecture… long, low sweeping lines, uptilting planes. Surface patterned after such abstraction in line and color as find 'realism' in the patterns of the rattlesnake, the Gila monster, the chameleon, and the saguaro, cholla or staghorn—or is it the other way around—are inspiration enough." His winter home, Taliesin West, is actually where he dreamed up some of his most distinctive and stunning buildings. Follow along for a complete guide to the Frank Lloyd Wright gems that can be found all across Greater Phoenix!
Start your tour at Taliesin West, the architect's iconic winter home from the late 1930s until his death in the late 1950s. Today, it's the home of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, and it's also open for public tours. The hour-long Panorama Tour shows off some of the highlights of the building—which is a perfect example of Wright's ability to blend indoor and outdoor spaces. The 90-minute Insights Tour gets you behind the scenes into more of Wright's private quarters. The Garden Tour and Night Lights Tour are extra-special and also worth looking into if you have a few hours to spare.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Spire—located on none other than Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard in Scottsdale—is an interesting little gem. Wright initially designed it for the Arizona State Capitol in the mid-1950s but it was actually rejected by the city. Fast forward to 2004 and Scottsdale had a change of heart—they decided to finally erect the spire in Wright’s honor. The spiraling, blue-hued structure lights up at night, so it's definitely worth checking out after the sun has set.
Another Frank Lloyd Wright building that didn't actually come to fruition until after his death is the First Christian Church in Phoenix. Wright was commissioned to design an entire campus for the Southwest Christian Seminary, but the school closed down before construction could begin. In the 1970s, Wright's widow granted the First Christian Church permission to use the design of the chapel for their new place of worship. The church and the freestanding bell tower (which is topped with a 22-foot cross) both appear to be triangular but they actually have four sides. Drive by and you'll see what we mean...
Although Frank Lloyd Wright wasn't the main architect for the opulent Arizona Biltmore, he did consult on the project with the main designer, Albert Chase McArthur. But take one look at the building and it's clear that Wright's influence is all over the place, especially in the lobby. And while the resort was built in the late 1920s, additional nods to Wright have been added since then. For example, be on the look out for the stained glass windows named "Saguaro Forms and Cactus Flowers.” This design was originally created by Wright for a magazine cover, but the students at Taliesin copied the design and made glass windows to be installed in his honor.
Frank Lloyd Wright designed the David and Gladys Wright House in the 1950s as a private residence for his son and daughter-in-law. Located at the base of Camelback Mountain in a citrus grove, the home's design is especially unique. The long, curved ramp foreshadows the design of the Guggenheim, which Wright would craft seven years later. Additionally, the whole building's circular design was intended to capture the desert breezes and cool everything naturally. There are no tours currently being offered, but the newest owner does have plans to restore the building and open it to the public.
Frank Lloyd Wright's last public work was Arizona State University's Grady Gammage Auditorium. Based on an earlier design for an opera house that never panned out, the circular, almost seashell-like building is done in terra cotta tones that echo the surrounding desert. Unfortunately, both Wright and Grady Gammage, the ASU president who commissioned the auditorium, both died before its completion. However, Wright's trusted aide, William Wesley Peters, was able to bring the design to life and successfully opened the auditorium in 1964.
A bonus stop! Frank Lloyd Wright's influence reaches beyond the buildings he designed himself—his students went on to create great architectural gems, including the Hotel Valley Ho. Designed by Wright's protégé Edward L. Varney, the Valley Ho is distinctly jet-age futuristic. One of the first hotels in Scottsdale with air conditioning and a parking lot next to the rooms, it was the height of style in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Natalie Wood, Bette Davis, Roy Rogers, Bing Crosby, Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Cary Grant were among the celebs who stayed here. In the 70s, many of the retro details were removed, as they were seen as outdated, but a 2002 renovation restored a lot of the original, mid-century modern flavor. The hotel now offers 90-minute architectural tours that delve into the property's storied past and unique design.
As one of America's most ingenious and prolific architects, Frank Lloyd Wright changed architecture and design as Americans knew it. And it's worth noting that Phoenix's unique landscapes inspired some of Wright's most stunning and singular pieces. Seeing and studying his designs here will likely inspire you to look at Phoenix, and the surrounding Sonoran Desert, in a new light.
It's time to go beyond. Follow trails that reveal mighty mountaintops. Wander among iconic landscapes beneath picture-perfect skies. Let the Sonoran Desert be your guide to limitless adventure.