Tours and classes have resumed at Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s former home, studio and 800-acre estate
A National Historic Landmark since 1976, Taliesin was one of seven Wright entities recognized in 2019 as UNESCO World Heritage sites.
For many visitors, the first glimpse of Taliesin reveals little more than an unusual building set atop a wooded hill just south of Spring Green. But that assumption errs both in describing the structure and understanding the intent of its architect and former resident, Richland Center native Frank Lloyd Wright.
“I would like to have a free architecture … that belonged to where you see it standing,” Wright told reporter Mike Wallace during an interview in 1957, two years before his death at 91. “As a grace to the landscape, instead of a disgrace.”
A National Historic Landmark since 1976, Taliesin — both the residence/studio and the 800-acre estate itself — was one of seven Wright entities recognized in 2019 as UNESCO World Heritage sites, further cementing an enduring global legacy that’s sometimes forgotten here in Wisconsin.
“All the buildings reflect the ‘organic architecture’ developed by Wright, which includes an open plan, a blurring of the boundaries between exterior and interior and the unprecedented use of materials such as steel and concrete,” UNESCO notes on its website. “Wright’s work … had a strong impact on the development of modern architecture in Europe.”
Throughout much of 2020, COVID-19 all but closed the estate that normally attracts 25,000 visitors per year. But Taliesin is now open for tours, classes and grab-and-go meals from the Riverview Terrace Café overlooking the Wisconsin River in the Wright-designed visitors center just down Highway 23.
Taliesin means “shining brow” in Wright’s native Welsh. Not so much “atop” but rather “of” the hill, Taliesin wraps around the promontory overlooking the Wyoming Valley. The residence is very much the hill’s shining brow, and the Wright-designed structures on the estate — Hillside School, Midway Barn, the Romeo and Juliet Windmill and Tan-y-Deri — represent a style as organic as it is architectural.
It’s an approach that Wright felt embodied a spirit of both time and place beyond construction. That ethos applied to virtually all of his work, and the estate’s integration of original design and structural innovation, blended with the area’s agrarian lifestyle, makes it a rural “laboratory for living,” says Carrie Rodamaker, executive director of Taliesin Preservation.
“Taliesin is a house, studio, farm and school built on the idea that things come together in an integrated way and create a solid ecosystem,” says Rodamaker. That ecosystem is a snapshot of 1959, Wright’s last year on the property and the one to which all preservation efforts are geared. Various Taliesin tours stress that integration, but they also shine a light on Wright’s creative and often quirky nature.
The residence and studio are the heart of any Taliesin tour, and Rodamaker says they illustrate the architect’s role as “master manipulator.” Unlike contemporary homes, Taliesin has no grand entrance. Rather, visitors enter through what seems like a small side door that opens into a low-ceilinged hallway, designed to direct guests to the high-ceilinged living room. It seats about 30 people comfortably and is best viewed from the chairs and sofas surrounding its perimeter. Sightlines and furnishings were arranged to be most appealing to those seated, as Wright felt the room became more attractive and engaging from this perspective.
More than 20,000 square feet of Taliesin is enclosed or under a roof. Its dolomitic limestone flooring (quarried about a mile from the estate) continues outside into the gardens, and its unusual windows with mitered glass corners allow for broad views of those outdoor spaces — another innovation blending nature and architecture. This helps the 25,000 square feet of outdoor gardens, courtyards and terraces feel like a part of the living space. Similar twists, tricks and turns can be found throughout the estate.
“Taliesin embraces a historical concept that was very forward-thinking … interacting with nature and the importance of being self-sufficient,” Rodamaker says. “It’s pretty cool.”
Michael Muckian writes this arts and entertainment column monthly. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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