This Capstone Studio focused on the materials and materialities of Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home, studio, and architectural campus located in the Sonoran Desert outside Scottsdale, Arizona. A seasonal complement to Taliesin, Wisconsin, Taliesin West served as Wright’s desert laboratory, where he practiced and refined his ideas of organic architecture in tandem with his pedagogical philosophy of “learning by doing.” With the Architecture School’s departure in 2020 and increasing public vistiation as a heritage site, Taliesin West is now at a crossroad. To better understand the place as Wright’s 'experiment in the desert’ and its continuing role in showcasing and expanding Wright’s principles of organic architecture in the 21st century, the Studio explored Wright’s writings on the nature of materials and their deployment at Taliesin West through his drawings, constructions, and modifications over time. Students then pursued three projects examining the Cabaret and strategies for its conservation, a technical study of the site’s iconic Desert Masonry, and the adaptive reuse of the Crescent building for a new visitor center.
Cabaret: Documentation, Condition Assessment and Analysis, Non-Destructive Testing
Team Members: Yi-Ju Chen, Priyanka Gorasia, Anyuan Ji, and Yuxuan Wu
The Historic Structures Report (HSR) is a comprehensive report on the Cabaret at Taliesin West, a historic structure built in 1948. This report outlines its design, chronology, and current state using non-destructive testing to understand its initial purpose, modifications, and deteriorating pathologies. The project methodology includes documentation, condition assessment, non-destructive testing, and comparison with the 2013 structure report by 1200 Architectural Engineers. Recommendations are made for preservation and maintenance, including repairs, treatments, or other measures. The guide offers valuable insights to preserve this significant historic structure, which is a single-story, irregular hexagonal building serving as a theater and performance space partially sunken below ground level.
The goal of this research is to provide a comprehensive understanding of desert masonry as a construction system by examining its materials and techniques, its construction chronology and formal typology, and its performance and current conditions. First, we investigate the construction process to understand how this hybrid system was conceived and realized. Second, we trace its typology based on key attributes and how construction changed over time, identifying the evolving patterns that emerged across generations of student builders. And finally, we assess the condition of specific examples of desert masonry to identify decay mechanisms and propose preservation treatment strategies.