A Taliesin Visit
42 Year Retrospective

I did not take a digital camera on this trip. [link: where is matt] I did not want photography getting in the way of experience. Instead, once in the morning before tea and later at noon, on my way to the parking lot to be picked up, I took some quick snapshots with my Vaio PictureBook laptop. Here they are, more or less in the order that I shot them and without editing - along with some reflections.


A courtyard, tree, bridge, water tower and early morning sun combine to make a place of tranquility. The synthesis of human structure and natural landscape - prospect and refuge.


There are many buildings at Taliesin and they all blend into the landscape. The desert is preserved and present everywhere and the dragon has protected all for many years.


The Dining Room - steel, wood, stone, intimate scale and shade make a place to gather and eat with colleagues. Shared food like the fire hearth is at the core of a community.


The bell that calls the community together. Mr. Wright, while always leading the way into the future never neglected the enduring symbols of the past.


One of my favorite places - the low beams define a space intimate and expansive at once. A fitting frame for the expansive height of the Drafting Room and the work within.


Looking from the Drafting Room towards the Office. It was here that I saw Mr. Wright sign his application for an Arizona architect’s license in 1958!


Back toward the Water Tower and the old Library on the left which is now used as an orientation and seminar room. I used to spend a great deal of time in the Library as it was rarely used.


Looking back along the Drafting Room where the struggle for the soul of the Guggenheim was taking place while I was there [link: 50 year anniversary]. I had one of my best dialogs with Mr. Wright at the cooller.


The Office, again. In many ways this was my favorite building. I remember first seeing it and being amazed how so modest a structure could have so much dignity and sense of shelter.


The Office from the Parking Area. A masterful handling of prospect and refuge along with the invitation of Entry. Taliesin is a textbook of Pattern Language.


Tower and Gate leading to the Book Shop - the showers and shop in my time. Taliesin West has been evolving for over six decades - the perfect example of Design, Build, Use.


Tower and Fountain - around the corner and down is the Book Shop and beyond the desert and apprentice “tents” [link: Guggenheim shelter competition].


12 photos taken a couple of hours apart does not begin to capture the variety of Taliesin.

It can be seen that the colors change with the light. That the buildings blend with the landscape neither one fighting, dominating or submitting to the other. That nature-forms and human-forms are in harmony and compliment each other. That this is a place where living is not a concept or a dream - it is a practice.

photos by Matt Taylor
using a Vaio PictureBook
December 2000

Some Observations:

I was at Taliesin a short while and did not have any dialogs in depth about the Taliesin community. Therefore these remarks are based only on impression. There are some things, however, that seem evident, from the perspective of 42 years and 20 hours of reemergence.


The essence of the work-lifestyle is still here. It is no longer totally centered on the persona of Mr. Wright as it was but more outward looking to the larger world - this is a healthy sign. Taliesin Architects have executed 1,200 buildings since 1959 - a large body of work by any standard. This has entailed a shift from supporting one architect to a group of architects recreating, from principle, a new body of work in a new time and context. This has been - and is - a great transition.


The 1930, 1940 apprentices are largely gone now and it is mostly those that were just becoming senior, in the 50s, who are now providing the continuity from the days of Mr. and Mrs. Wright. There seems to be a new generation working and willing to step up to the task of carrying on - the first generation who was not here when Wright was working, designing and living here. This will be the second great transition.


These young architects have been taught by the architects who built and carried this practice for the last 40 years.


One criticism often leveled at Mr. Wright and Taliesin is that the Fellowship has not “produced” any great architects. Clearly, this is a totally hollow accusation. Both TA and many, many of those who worked with Wright, as part of the Fellowship and before it, have produced an incredible body of work. If the transition to the next generation can be as successful as the last two, it can be said that both a method of making architecture and teaching it has been demonstrated.


The larger and more complex questions stem from the composition of the Taliesin community itself. What has evolved here, over 70 years, is a family, a community of practice, a social system - it is an extremely complex organism. The scope of this enterprise is immense: education, architectural practice, integration of crafts and arts, historic preservation, archiving and a lively business in artifacts, books and so on. There are two campuses to preserve and to keep relevant. There is a body of over two thousand buildings to preserve, re-purpose, expand and evolve. This legacy can go on for a long time.


How will this community and enterprise evolve? I doubt there are many examples of this level of self-organizing work-living practices. There is little theory to cover what is, in fact, going on here every day let alone documented understanding to provide insight about future choices.


Planet earth, as a human artifact [link: master plan] - which is what it is becoming - will be largely “finished” in the next 25 years. It will be the new generation of architects, industrial designers and engineers who will do this work - for better or for worse. How will the Taliesin community play in this scenario? What will be Taliesin’s influence, reach and impact? Of the many ways that humanity can co-evolve - or fail - in the next few decades, what choices will be made? How will this process be facilitated?


Architecture, now takes on a new dimension. We are, in fact designing a planet. We will do this by design - or default. [link: a future by design not default]. At the extreme edges of our choice, we will either co-create with nature a living artifact that supports life in a great variety of forms or build a dead machine with no humanity, no life no reason to be.


All the traditional challenges of architecture remain. Added, however, is the challenge of designing systems and projects that are too complex to understand and that will involve thousands of people all over the globe. How will organic principles be practiced in this context, at this scope and at the rate of change that is taking place?


Taliesin has always been experienced-based in the development of architecture. This experience runs from cooking a meal, to building a building to stewarding a several hundred acre site. It spans a multi-generational practice. Could these experiences be key in accomplishing the task ahead?


To bring this experience to a rapidly expanding world, Taliesin will have to expand it’s already tremendous reach - perhaps, an order of magnitude. How this is accomplished is an issue of design however it is clear that virtual technology will be widely employed.


It appears to me that modern office and drafting technology is uncomfortable in the Taliesin environment. Part of this is the human scale that Mr. Wright employed. Although the complex is large, each part of it is intimate to a specific function and the implicit work-process of the people doing it. The new technology is now being used to augment a traditional program. As of yet, the technology is not integrated and, thus, not intrinsic to a new work process.


This is not an easy design problem to solve and it is made more complex by the clumsy packaging of present-day computer and communication technology. This, I think, will change with the next generation of equipment which will employ a much smaller footprint and more eloquent design. Even given these probable advances, there still is a serious challenge in the fact that these new tools will both cause and require change in the basic, underlying processes of Taliesin work. This means a measure of re-purposing in regards the physical expression of these activities. The physical environment of Taliesin will have to be adapted in a way that augments and keeps faith with it’s legacy.


This is not an easy design problem to solve and it is made more complex by the clumsy packaging of present-day computer and communication technology. This, I think, will change with the next generation of equipment which will employ a much smaller footprint and more eloquent design. Even given these probable advances, there still is a serious challenge in the fact that these new tools will both cause and require change in the basic, underlying processes of Taliesin work. This means a measure of re-purposing in regards the physical expression of these activities. The physical environment of Taliesin will have to be adapted in a way that augments and keeps faith with it’s legacy.


The present use of the WWW at Taliesin is mostly to make a portal into the various activities of the Fellowship. In order to project a global presence - if this is what the Fellowship decides to do - this existing window will have to become transparent in two directions: in to Taliesin (in a way that allows a sense of the place) and out to the world (in a way that presents the Taliesin experience in a provocative and forceful way. To be successful, this will involve total integration with the way that work is delivered by TA and education accomplished within the school. The Archives, of course, will also have to be virtually accessible, as well as, physically experienced.

These are not minor matters and they require serious thought and design. This process, however, is essential to the process of recreation. I do not seen any intention that Taliesin will become a museum. I see a community that is determined to continue this experiment, for it’s own sake, while making it an ever renewed example of an organic way of living - A shining Brow for the World we are all creating.

Some Personal Reflections:


I have spent 44 years working in the pursuit of architecture [as of December 2000]. I had two years experience [link: 1956] in drafting rooms before going to Taliesin. While there, I spent most of my time in various construction crews - not in the drafting room. I had little financial resources and knew I would be there only a short time - less than a year as it turned out. My main goal was to experience the life of Taliesin and to observe Mr. Wright in his own habitat. I wanted to see how the man fit with the world that he had created for himself


I was very young and did not fit into the Taliesin community at all well. This is not a criticism of the community or of, even, myself - it was just the way it was at the time. No money, youthful discontent and a burning quest caused me to leave almost before I was settled in. Had I stayed longer I might have stayed forever. In a way, I think that this was in the back of my mind and one thing that drove me out. The Taliesin life was very seductive to me - it is the closest that I have found to my vision of what work and life [link: 1958 vision] should be. Yet, I knew there were things I needed to discover that could not be found inside any community - even Taliesin.


There were a number of questions that have driven my 45 year long heuristic search and they unfolded year after year with architecture always at the end of it. Each of these took me on a quest that always seemed to lead away from architecture, as I understood it, even as the experiences prepared me for it.


How to formulate an idea, transform it into an architectural concept and get it accurately down on paper - 1956 to 1961 [link: architectural_projects]. By the time of the Cooper house [link: cooper house],I had mastered this. This took long concentrated hours learning the technique of architecture and many years in other’s drafting rooms doing working drawing after working drawing. Production drawings on production buildings - a $40,000,000 [in 1960 money] apartment project was just one of these projects.


How to build and coordinate the vast army of individuals and firms and organize the contracts and systems necessary to producing any building - 1961 to 1971 [link: 1961 - 1971]. By the time of the Swimming Pool system [link: swimming pool method], I had mastered this one, also. By 1971, I had built in excess of 30 million dollars of construction under my direct supervision and set up several design-build processes ranging from sale, design, drawings, construction to operation. Multistory buildings, subdivisions, golf courses, shopping centers, professional buildings - the pieces of a built landscape.


How to put architecture into the larger social context of community and the evolution of humanity and planet - 1971 to 1979 [link: master plan]. By the time Gail and I left Kansas City, this context had been created. I had expanded my concept of architecture from design, to design-build, to design-build-use [link: architecture is].


How to apply architectural thinking to technical and business systems integrating designing, building (manufacturing) and using - and the collaboration of Group Genius - 1979 to 1995 [link: 15 years of projects]. By the mid 90’s this was demonstrated with thousands of creative days and tens of thousands of people having used our environments and methods [link: mg taylor work] to solve large scale, systemic problems.


How to create a ValueWeb [link: valueweb] of KnowledgeWorkers and enterprises capable of ethical dealing, immense creativity and financial stability while remaining open, emergent and adaptive - 1996 to 2001. [link: nav centers]. These lessens, perhaps, are now coming to term. With the last filing of the Patent, the ValueWeb concept has evolved from a model to a formal system. With Crystal Cave, a PLACE [link: the crystal cave] has been designed to be the hub of this ValueWeb.


At the beginning of each of these cycles, I thought I was a short step away from my goal. “If only I could design,” I thought... “If I knew how to build,” then... “Ah, if I understood the larger historical trends and how a society transforms...” “No! It must fit into an economic system that involves the creativity of the entire enterprise - it is how architecture is used that has been missing.” “Not yet complete... not yet good enough.”


Each step along this quest has been more demanding than what came before. Each has seemed to take me further away from the life of architecture I embraced as a youth. Each has been necessary because I decided long ago that I would not settle for a practice [link: architectural practice] of several hundred works of art buried in a sea of environmental calamity.

No, I wanted to produce architecture AT SCALE - an atrocious ambition [link: 1958 - global architecture].


I wanted my work to be a vehicle of individual transformation and a tool for social change [link: domicile] - a dangerous ambition.


I “knew” intuitively that if I wanted to do this I would have to go out into a world hostile to the concept and learn how to do it - and, to gain a fair measure of credibility, wealth and influence neither compromised by or owned by the world I knew and wanted or the world I wanted to change. A Transition Manager [link: transition manager].


I did not belong [link: camelot and fitness] in either of these worlds - I still do not. But, perhaps, I have some gifts that I can bring to each. In some magical way that shows life (if you follow it) is always smarter than any of us, all of this seems to have come full cycle.


Eric Wright once told me that his Grandfather said that one should take many years to become an architect. The implication was that architects are grown - not made. Now, it IS time to begin...


At each junction point along this quest I faced alternatives - some were crises, some were opportunities. Each time, a combination of intuition, critical awareness and a plan for the future lead me to a choice. The core of my work always stayed the same - the form of it (designer, chief draftsman, project architect, construction superintendent, field engineer, product designer, entrepreneur, corporate vice-president, teacher, facilitator, CEO) changed many times. At the core of it, however, my work has remained the same [link: my work].


Over these years, my concept of the scale of work to be done continued to grow. Over these years, humanity built and built - and the work to be done took on greater scale and urgency. The better the tools, the better the organizations the bigger and more complex the problems became. Slowly, to me, architecture became a concept of a single project: a PLANET [link: rebuilding planet earth].


Still, with all this, why no contact for all these years? I have a simple rule - don’t know where I got it from but it might have been Aaron Green - it was certainly reinforced by Bucky Fuller. The rule is to not seek out relationships or opportunities until there is a project to do that requires the relationship. It was Fred Stitt [link: san francisco institute of architecture] that defined the project and gave me a reason to come back. From this, perhaps, a new relationship will grow, organically.


Many will think that this is a silly rule - sometimes I do. It serves me well, however. It has to do with feedback loops [link: feedback and criticism]. If you put your work out in a strong but general way people will respond. If you go around stimulating responses, you do not know if what comes is from your work or your self-promotion. I knew about SFIA for years but it was when Fred came to knOwhere for a Foresight event that he invited me to develop a class at the school. Context and understanding from shared experience has formed our relationship from the beginning. There has to be more than mutual interest to forge common cause. Many tend to forget this in our age of high speed connections, “networking” and superficial lives.


I did not leave Taliesin with the intention of not having a further relationship. It just took a little over 15,000 days for our paths to cross again. It could have happened sooner - it just did not. This rule works for me yet ambiguities [link: 2000 thoughts] do emerge. You can never know for sure if the path your are taking is a diversion - or the path home.

Additional Thoughts and Syntopical Reading:

Upon returning from Taliesin, I received a book in the mail from David Rothenberg. David wrote Hand’s End - Technology and the Limits of Nature in 1992. I started to read it as I was thinking about my visit to Taliesin and writing these notes.


This has provoked an interesting dialog in my mind. David’s book is a deep probing of the meaning and interaction between human consciousness, technology and nature (This brief description does not give the book justice). In the first Chapter: Unexpected Guile he writes:

“The italicized words in this translation of the first two fragments are attempts to render the elusive term logos into English. This Heraclitean logo is eternal, universal, common to all of us and everything around us, yet we are most often deaf to its presence. It’s as if we live in perpetual slumber. To ‘wake up,’ we should learn to follow the order which guides the world, inclusive of our role in it. This is the logos of Heraclitus, the notion of order from which all Western attempts to claim systematic knowledge of anything are descended.

“When we speak of techno-logy, are we asking for a systematic theory of practical action and artifice, or are we groping for a technique that is worthy of the order of the universe? The two are intertwined from the outset: practical knowledge and the ability to make give a certain sense of security and control that speculation will never warrant. A piece of the logos becomes tangible when it is tamed - when we work with it and are no longer terrified by it. When sure of technique, we soon imagine what it implies about nature. Fire is a strange and terrible demon until we can light it and extinguish it. Once it becomes a tool, we wonder: perhaps this is what forms the universe? Or water, or air: these are not only sensed in the surrounding world, they are things that we use.”

p 2

Intrinsic to Mr. Wright’s concept of organic architecture is the idea of human-action-nature feedback and synthesis. Taliesin was conceived as a total experience - a world on to itself - so that all the aspects that make up living and the architectural expression of it can be leaned: both Techne + Logos.


Once, when Taliesin was described as a retreat from reality, Mr. Wright retorted it was more like “a retreat to reality.”


This is the great fact and promise of Taliesin. My question is how will this experience be preserved, recreated and made ubiquitous (useful scale) in a world that will totally transform itself in the next quarter century? This is a challenge that requires both great skill in and the ability to integrate the arts of design and enterprise management.

Sunrise at Taliesin, December 2000

The Fellowship has lived and preserved an idea for over 80 years. This has taken enormous creativity and dedication. The experience has been its own reward. The enterprise has become a significant social institution. Now, a new transition is ahead. There are many paths to take. Which is the path home?

Return To: INDEX
GoTo: The Guggenheim @ 50 Years
GoTo: The 4 Step ReCreation Process
GoTo: Case for Planetary Architecture
GoTo: The Promise
GoTo: Xanadu Project
GoTo: A Future by Design Not Default

Matt Taylor
December 17, 2000
Palo Alto, California


SolutionBox voice of this document:


click on graphic for explanation of SolutionBox

Posted: December 17, 2000

Revised: March16, 2010
• 20001217.128592.mt • 20001219.431854.mt • 20011216.222290.mt •

• 20100316.656511.mt •

(note: this document is about 95% finished)

Copyright© Matt Taylor, 2000, 2001, 2010


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