Though Frank Lloyd Wright was not a Bay Region architect in the strictest sense, the influence he exerted over a great number of designers who practiced here cannot be overstated. Wright did have a number of commissions in Northern California, including his striking Marin Civic Center as well as a number of equally memorable residential projects. Joseph Eichler famously lived in a Wright home when he first moved to California and his eviction therefrom is what prompted him to begin developing his own very successful modern tracts.
But it was not the structures that Wright designed in Northern California that have had the greatest impact on our built environment, it was the architects that he mentored at his Taliesen Fellowship, that then moved to the Bay Area to practice and have left a lasting mark. Among these were Frederick Langhorst, Mark Mills, Aaron Green, and Rowan Maiden. Then there were numerous other local designers who were declared admirers of Wright despite never having trained with him. Notable among this group are Warren Callister and Jack Hillmer who are jointly and separately responsible for some of the most striking residential architecture in the Bay Area.
I was recently fortunate enough to visit Wright’s winter home, Taliesen West in Scottsdale, Arizona. The Taliesen Fellowship is still thriving there. Students spend half the year in Arizona, and half in Wisconsin at the original Taliesen. The structures that Wright and his students built in the desert remain striking today, but they must have seemed very remote and exotic when they were first erected. They were all open to the elements, built from materials found on site, with no air conditioning or windows. The roofs were just sheet canvas, which creates a wonderful diffuse light inside the buildings.
Wright began work on Taliesen West in 1937 and the Bay Area designers who helped to build it over those first years, carried a bit of it with them when they went on to practice independently. In future posts I will try to illuminate how this influence manifests itself in the various designers who took up residence here and built upon Wright’s legacy.