Architecture and Nature I: Taliesin West- Organic Architecture

Frank Lloyd Wright, the great American Architect, was one of the first to consciously design and build structures and interiors as a part of their environment, in a unified whole. Buildings were not considered separate from their furnishings, surroundings or inhabitants. To Frank Lloyd Wright, a building needed to ‘grow’ from its immediate surroundings and environment, to appear as one continuous unit.  

He was the first to coin the term "Organic Architecture". In the Architectural Record (August 1914):“…the ideal of an organic architecture... is a sentient, rational building that would owe its ‘style’ to the integrity with which it was individually fashioned to serve its particular purpose – a ‘thinking’ as well as ‘feeling’ process.”, Frank Lloyd Wright wrote,“... In organic architecture then, it is quite impossible to consider the building as one thing, its furnishings another and its setting and environment still another. … The spirit in which these buildings are conceived sees all these together at work as one thing.

View of the Drafting Studio and Frank LLoydand Olgivanna Wright's Living Quarter

Founded in 1937, Taliesin West was Wright’s design laboratory for organic architecture and, at the same time, one of its prime examples. It was the winter home for the Taliesin Fellowship, where fifty to sixty apprentices could study under the architect. Every winter, when Wright and his students returned, he would see the place with fresh eyes, adding and removing walls here and there, experimenting with building materials. In Taliesin West he used the design principles of organic architecture, which can be summarized as the following:

- Use building materials in their natural state
- Build in harmony with nature
- Let the building grow out of the earth
- Allow the interiors to flow and engage in a dialogue with the outdoors
- Break the box — remove the corners and free the space
- Design “from the inside out” — express the interior through the exterior form of the building

When Frank Lloyd Wright arrived at the foot of the McDowell Mountains in present-day Scottsdale overlooking the desert, he was reminded of the ocean floor and that inspired the layout of the complex. As a keynote of his design, shaped like the prow of a ship pointing to the horizon, he created a shallow pool, which served as water storage in case of a fire and to clean the canvas sheets which formed the weather protection for the rooms before the glass was installed.
Another example of Wright’s abstracted interpretation of the surrounding nature is the slanted roof lines that echo the surrounding mountains; brightly painted, carved wood forms jutting like spiky wildflowers. “Wright wanted others to experience this amazing place as he experienced it”, said Frederick Prozillo, Director of Preservation at Taliesin West. The triangle shape repeats itself in section, elevation and floor plan. Using low level, horizontal planes the buildings were kept low to the ground to insure effective natural ventilation and protection and shade from the intense desert sun.

Floor Plan 1938

Drafting Studio and Pool

Apartment, Sunset Terrace and Garden Room

Every aspect of design and detail of the project was given particular attention by Wright. Besides closely accounting for the arid desert climate, Wright implemented local and site provided materials for the construction of the house and foundation. The structure's walls were built by the students as part of their curriculum and made of local desert rocks, stacked within wood forms before being filled with concrete. Once the concrete set, the wood forms were removed to expose the rocks and concrete.

Wright always favored using the materials readily available on site rather than transporting it there. This matched not just his philosophy and aesthetic, but also the critical economic and logistic constraint of bringing any exotic material to what was then a remote location. The architecture of Taliesin West described in Wright’s own words: “There were simple characteristic silhouettes to go by, tremendous drifts and heaps of sunburned desert rocks were nearby to be used. We got it all together with the landscape…”. The flat surfaces of the rocks were placed outward facing and large boulders filled the interior space so concrete could be conserved.

Water Tower

The rich red hue (a favorite Frank Lloyd Wright color) from the redwood timber along with the earthy, sandy hues from the concrete and stone of the walls creates a close natural relationship between the house and landscape. Frank Lloyd Wright’s typical color pallets can be reviewed here:


Structural elements of office painted red

Color scheme at Drafting Studio and Door

Compression Door

One of Wright's most famous design tools can be found in abundance at Taliesin West. It is his use of “compression and release”, which is also known as “tension and resolution” or “embrace and release". By making entrance spaces to a building a confining "compressing" experience Frank Lloyd Wright made the visitor mildly uncomfortable and then, by encouraging them to move into the larger main room, a feeling of relaxation, or "release”. This "release" also imparts a feeling (or impression) of freedom. As one can see in the image below, Wright designed entrances as narrow hallways with extremely low ceilings, often no more than six feet high. The claustrophobic hallways encouraged a flow of traffic into the main room, thereby preventing people from obstructing the entrance. A similar concept of encouraging certain behavior through architecture can be seen in the group dining room of Taliesin West. This room had ceilings that were also uncomfortably low, which encouraged diners to sit at the tables instead of standing.



Dining Room View while Seated

Taliesin West is one of the great examples how drawing inspiration and all aspects of its design from the surrounding environment can enrich both, the architecture itself as well as the environment it sits in, making it a truly organic architectural complex. 

Garden Room Interior

Garden Room Exterior

More info you can also find at:

The Construction of our Micro Apartment

More images will follow, but here is a little taste. The General Contractor is testing our foldable wall and bunk beds during construction.

The Beginning

Resource Furniture beds and lower cabinets are installed

Red cabinet and soffit cabinets are being installed

Bathroom/ medicine cabinet door

Sliding panel for painting is installed

All cabinets but movable kitchen island are in

Folding wall in front of bunk beds in open position

Micro Apartment Design

Foyer and Gallery Space

Early in 2014, the owners of a small Manhattan studio approached DAS Studio with a request to convert their 320 sqft space into a high-functioning micro-apartment. The desire was to have all the functionality of a full-sized apartment within the footprint of this tiny studio. On taking on this challenge, we identified the minimal design objective of needing to incorporate four fully functional spaces into one room - a dining room seating 12, a master bedroom, guest room for two. The owners also needed enough storage space for their extensive china collection, hanging space to display their art collection, including a 4' x 10' painting and room for an entertainment system. Further, space needed to be accounted for a work desk that could be separated from the sleeping area in case one of the owners were still asleep. We set out to achieve all the above while still creating a space that was open and generous.

The following renderings showing the different possible apartment configurations. Photos of the apartment will follow soon.

During day time a living

During night time a master bedroom with guest bedroom option
During day time master bed becomes a couch and guest beds collapse behind folding wall
During night time master bed opens over couch and guest beds pull out behind folding wall 
Daytime configuration with couch and sliding panel/ art wall
Night time configuration with master bed and folding wall

Weidlinger House Kickstarter Campaign

Help the Cape Cod Modern House Trust save this important modern house, and transform it into a home for creativity and learning.

Go to to help restoring this important architectural gem.

Weidlinger House Restoration
Due to a lack of resources from the Park Service, this irreplaceable piece of our cultural heritage ended up abandoned and slated for demolition in the pristine landscape of the Cape Cod National Seashore. The Cape Cod Modern House Trust (CCMHT) has obtained a lease and begun a full restoration, which we hope to finish, with your help, by July, 2014. This Kickstarter campaign is to raise $50,000 toward that goal.

The Weidlinger House in 1953 soon after construction. Photo: Madeliene Weidlinger-Friedli
The Weidlinger House in 1953 soon after construction. Photo: Madeliene Weidlinger-Friedli

The same corner of the house as it looks today. Photo: Dave Kennedy
The same corner of the house as it looks today. Photo: Dave Kennedy
The House
In 1952, Paul Weidlinger bought this secluded parcel of land in Wellfleet. Inspired by his friend, the famed architect Marcel Breuer, who had settled just across the pond, he set out to combine his vision of experimental modernism with the particular requirements of a Cape Cod summerhouse.
The structure hovers over the landscape, a perfect platform for viewing the unspoiled pond and woods. While the three bedrooms and bath are enclosed and rest just above the ground, the open, expansive living space vaults into the air on X braced stilts, a 16-foot wide sliding door opening to the views. The four foot deep veranda surrounds the house, accessed by a flying ramp. The original palette of cobalt blue for doors and window frames and school bus yellow for the steel struts will soon be repainted.

A view of the veranda facing the pond. 1953. Photo: Madeliene Weidlinger-Friedli
A view of the veranda facing the pond. 1953. Photo: Madeliene Weidlinger-Friedli

The living room in it’s original state. Photo: Madeliene Weidlinger-Friedli
The living room in it’s original state. Photo: Madeliene Weidlinger-Friedli
 Paul Weidlinger
Born in Budapest in 1914, Paul Weidlinger apprenticed in Paris with LeCorbusier and London with Lazlo Maholy Nagy before coming to the US and starting his own practice. He specialized in the most daunting structural problems, including pioneering the earthquake and blast proofing of structures and was sought out by many of the giants of modern architecture to help realize their most challenging designs. Following his lead, after 911 his successor firm Weidlinger Associates Inc. was called upon to analyze the collapses of the World Trade Center Towers.
Why was the building vacant?
After the Cape Cod National Seashore was created in 1961, a number of important modern houses were bought by the Federal Government and fell into administrative limbo. The Weidlinger house (one of these) has been derelict for 15 years. Though it will soon be listed on the National Registry, protecting it from demolition, the house is in urgent need of restoration to stop further decay.

Our crew opening up the boarded up sliding doors facing the pond. Photo: Tom Weidlinger
Our crew opening up the boarded up sliding doors facing the pond. Photo: Tom Weidlinger

The pond side of the house today. Photo: Raimund Koch
The pond side of the house today. Photo: Raimund Koch
 The Cape Cod Modern House Trust (CCMHT)
Incorporated in 2007 as a 501c3 non-profit, CCMHT has secured a lease on the house and plans to resume work on the restoration in Nov. 2013, with completion planned for summer 2014. The Trust has already leased and restored two abandoned modern houses in Wellfleet owed by the National Park Service. Both were made possible by previous, successful fundraising campaigns. These houses act as artist/scholar residencies in the shoulder seasons. In 2012 we hosted six teams of finalists in our Add-on ’13 affordable housing competition (see our blog for details) The effort sought to bring fresh thinking to the Outer Cape’s serious housing problem. Past residents have included painters, film makers, composers, and researchers (among other disciplines). The houses also serve as premiums for membership. Members receive weekly stays in the houses in return for a partially tax-deductible donation. 

Please help us save the Weidlinger House and make it a laboratory for a new generation of problem solvers.
Please attend one of our upcoming events and learn more about the project:

EVENTS: 2013/14
Oct. 9th 
Launch of Kickstarter campaign to fund restoration of the Weidlinger House (Paul Weidlinger, 1953) by Cape Cod Modern House Trust.

Oct. 9th
Opening of Add-on ’13 exhibit.
Boston Society of Architects gallery
Co-sponsored by DOCOMOMO

Screenings of “Built on Narrow Land” Documentary by Malachi Connolly:

Oct 9th,
Boston Society of Architects
290 Congress Street Boston, MA
(Along w/ opening on the Add-on ’13 finalist exhibit)

Oct 18
, 6:15pm
Architecture and Design Film Festival
Tribeca Cinemas NY,NY

Nov 2nd
, 2:00pm
Cape Cod National Seashore Headquarters
50 Nauset Road Eastham, MA

Nov. 9th
End of Kickstarter campaign, re-start of renovation project.

May 2014.
Publication of Cape Cod Modern: Midcentury Architecture and Community on the Outer Cape, by Peter McMahon and Christine Cipriani, with photography by Raimund Koch. Published by Metropolis Books.