Taliesin West in Scottsdale has seen a bump in visitors since garnering UNESCO World Heritage status, a trend the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation anticipates to continue in the future.
Taliesin West, along with Taliesin in Wisconsin, were part of a group of eight sites to garner the UNESCO inscription, according to a press release.
To ensure Mr. Wright’s two personal homes are accurately preserved, Foundation Vice President of Preservation Fred Prozzillo has taken a contemporary approach to the historic preservation of both sites.
Through the work of the preservation teams, Mr. Prozzillo seeks to extend the legacy of Mr. Wright’s innovation by showcasing unique design and sustainable practices.
“The preservation of Taliesin West and Taliesin is both unique and challenging. Often people think of historic preservation as picking a point in time and preserving a site to a specific date so people can study it, learn from it and experience it as it was in that moment,” Mr. Prozzillo said in a prepared statement.
“Wright meant both of these sites to be ever-changing laboratories. He’d split his time between the two and upon his return, he would see the property with a new eye and make changes to the sites season after season. Our challenge is thinking about how we preserve these living sites and accommodate 140,000 visitors per year, while working to preserve the concept of constant change. Our preservation teams maintain a respect for the history of the sites while evolving to fit the changing needs of the properties.”
One area the team’s will look to improve is accessibility. Ensuring the sites are accessible to individuals with disabilities is essential to achieving its mission, a release claims.
As such, the foundation is working to add ramps, replace surfaces that are easier for wheelchairs and walkers, upgrade lighting and sound systems and create ADA compliant bathrooms.
The accessibility projects receiving funding from Challenge Grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities, which requires matching support from individual donors; a Quality of Life grant from the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation; and the Pakis Family Foundation (a supporting organization of the Arizona Community Foundation).
Taliesin West’s water and electrical infrastructure is at the end of its serviceable life and the foundation needs to identify how to replace it in a way that doesn’t compromise the buildings.
Engineers are assisting the preservation team in the planning and assessment of the current infrastructure. The goal is that when the water lines are replaced under the buildings, the historic concrete floors are not compromised.
Mr. Prozzillo and his team have explored the use of horizontal directional boring to bore underneath the building to preserve the original concrete.
For this, the foundation is partnering with industry leaders in horizontal boring technology. It also plans to apply this technique to the replacement of the electrical systems and underground power lines in a way that is not harmful to the site.
The roofs at Taliesin West were once canvas and over time have changed to acrylic. The preservation team is investigating a way to get back to a fabric roof material.
With grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, it is researching different materials and framing systems that could replace the acrylic and keep the buildings watertight.
This may allow them to transition back to a roofing material that is more dynamic, alive, and closer to what Wright used in his time. The team is developing details to select materials that they will then test on site.
There, different material selections will be tested under the harsh elements of the Sonoran desert. The result will be the development of a material that’s not only suitable for installation at Taliesin West, but a widely-used sustainable building solution.
“In contemporary construction, if a material deteriorates, it would simply be removed and replaced. We hold our materials to a higher value as historic properties. We don’t want to have incremental change on the buildings through the removal of historic materials. If we change small pieces over time, one day we might realize it isn’t Taliesin West or Taliesin anymore,” said Prozzillo.
“We’re not here to change; we’re here to maintain and preserve. This sounds contrary to the idea of being an institution of innovation, but we see a profound challenge in finding creative solutions to balance preserving the past and innovating for the future. If there are any safety or structural augmentations necessary to maintain the structures, we explore how to incorporate those changes in a way that does not compromise the historic character of the building.
“Our goal is to always preserve the original structure so visitors can understand what was there and what the Fellowship originally built. The purpose is always to maintain that story and the life of the structure over time.”