Friday, April 11, 2014

Don’t drink the Kool-Aid

As regular readers will know we've chased up Frank Lloyd Wright buildings whenever we've been near them and the other day we were near Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona. While there's nothing much we can add to the story of this sprawling desert complex which the extraordinary Lloyd Wright conceived in his seventies, how about the cult thing? As we explored the place and met some of the staff, one of the young architects and an 80-plus year old one, it became clear that FLW was running something very close to a cult up there in the desert. They even call themselves The Fellowship to this day and FLW’s my-way-or-the-highway philosophy has bred a very respectful following indeed. Put together FLW's mission to elevate society with the small hutch-like DIY accommodation, communal hardships, shared meals, and the club-like atmosphere and it all felt just millimeters away from creepy.

Then we went to see the Italian architect Paolo Soleri’s attempt to build a city of the future at Arcosanti further north into the Arizona dessert. Although now dusty and diverted by handcrafts it is still impressive that such soaring structures were essentially built by people who'd drifted in to join the adventure. Some of the large half domes had been made in the same way as the Teshima Museum we posted about last year and what they lacked in elegance they made up for in grandeur. There were still some bright-eyed followers but here it was a skeleton crew. The community has gone into a serious decline, Soleri himself died last year and the place is struggling to maintain its eccentric and spectacular digs far less entertain any further efforts at urban experimentation.

Why the difference? The FLW people were very, very fortunate in his choice of a third wife. Olgivanna Lloyd Wright was considerably younger than her husband and stepped up as CEO of a cleverly designed Foundation with educational and heritage goals and, of course, the FLW global brand. Arcosanti had none of this back-up so without its visionary the place feels like an experiment that is failing. When it comes to long-term survival Foundations beat Hippies right out of the park, or out of the desert as it is in this case.

Images: Top, Taliesin West and the rest Agrosanti