Frank Lloyd Wright, the father of organic architecture, is a man who needs little to no explanation. But the annual energy bills at Taliesin West, the sprawling winter compound spread across a 500-acre plot in the desert foothills of Scottsdale, Ariz.? Well, they do — they’re a whopping $200,000 a year.
Completed in 1931 and used by the insanely prolific, Wisconsin-based architect as a snowbird retreat and studio until his death in 1959 at the age of 91, Taliesin West is currently the home to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and serves as the main campus of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. It’s also a massively popular tourist attraction that, like other Wright masterpieces such as Fallingwater, the Robie House, and the Guggenheim Museum, is for architecture lovers what Space Mountain is to kids or what St. Peter’s is to Christian pilgrims. A National Historic Landmark since 1982, Taliesin West is a bucket-list kind of place.
But even hundreds of thousands of public tours costing in the ballpark of $32 can’t save Taliesin West from daunting annual energy costs. This is why, kicking off next month, the compound will undergo various energy-slashing improvements, including the installation of 4,000 solar panels, the replacement of 5,000 light bulbs with more efficient models, insulation work on the roofs and other areas, and new HVAC systems. The Wright foundation is confident that the ambitious, three-year retrofit will drastically reduce or even fully eliminate Taliesin West’s energy costs while keeping the building in line with Wright’s initial vision. After, all Wright was designing environmentally sensitive structures loooong before modern green building practices came along.
“It's something that is entirely consistent with the history and values of Taliesin West,” Sean Malone, president and CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, tells the Associated Press.
Along with significant contributions from the firm leading the work, Phoenix-based Big Green Zero, the Wright foundation received some big-time help from local companies such as First Solar, Inc. — the firm is donating $1 million worth of solar panels and labor. Still, it’s expected that the foundation will shell out around $100,000 for costs including permits, equipment and some labor.
Given that Taliesin is believed to be the very first National Historic Landmark to be graced with solar panels (according to Malone, at least), you may be wondering where exactly those panels will go given the stringent rules involved with even the slightest tweaks of landmark-designated structures. Well, not on the roof, that’s for sure. Rather, the 250-kilowatt array will be hidden away elsewhere on the property grounds, only visible to visitors as they approach the compound by car. Says Malone: “It's not part of the nature that is brought into Frank Lloyd Wright spaces. It doesn't affect that in any kind of negative way and yet we are not apologetic about it either ... It's part of the story. It's now a part of what this place is.” And by the way, Taliesin West was completely powered by a generator up until the late 1950s.
According to the AP, Taliesin West will remain open to public tours during the retrofit, and apparently the Wright foundation is already eyeing Taliesin, Wright’s primarily late-life residence in Spring Green, Wis., for a possible energy audit and similar upgrades. (Taliesin, originally built in 1911, has a pretty grisly back story if you’re not familiar with it.)
I've never been to Taliesin West myself (aside from the Guggenheim, I believe I've only set foot in one other Wright building: The Hollyhock House in L.A. ... what can I say, I haven't spent much time in Chicago, Madison, or Buffalo) but I'm curious to hear your thoughts on the property and on this pretty significant news.
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