Wright On

Since I was a college sophomore in OU’s “intro to design” course, I’ve enjoyed the works of Frank Lloyd Wright. (FLW)

FLW was ahead of his time.



I also enjoyed his followers’ works in the prairie / woods settings of central Oklahoma (Bruce Goff), and other different ecologies around the country. But seeing his work in the desert, where I’ve recently learned of his students’ outdoor learning conducted on-site, I gained a new appreciation.


Not sure one could have such a boulder nowadays, anywhere in NM and AZ. I wonder what the local Salt River-Pima-Maricopa people think of this located here.

I hope they at least get free admission here at any time, and have it closed on days they want to revere what their ancient works are about, and wander in the desert to their heart’s content, just like the pueblos finally get to do at Petroglyph National Monument in ABQ.

As a first generation American, I am quite serious about the first people’s place here.


The wayfinding signage is quite good.



He used extensive turfgrass on one side. I’ve heard mixed things on his landscape designs, but when you see this entire property, then it makes sense.


Great steps leading to another sculptural petroglyph boulder.


The concrete / imbedded rock bands are a nice touch.


Chihuahuan Desert and Madrean yuccas used…now I feel at home.


I liked the narrow paving bands while there; writing this I’m now unsure. #hypercritical


The moon gate for the kids…he had 7+.



My visit was on a pleasant, relatively normal 90F Sunday afternoon in late spring. With AC inside, knowing the third “Mrs. Wright” waited 10 years to get indoor bathrooms and AC installed.


From their bedroom and fireplace (no central heating) to the bathroom. This is about 1/4 the size of my master bath at my home in Las Cruces, but then again, I don’t have stainless steel wall-to-wall.


I do have central heating, which makes Nov-April post-shower drying pleasurable, right to my warm towels.


An outdoor water feature / shallow pool



Then there’s the grand finale to me: a huge, wood-burning fireplace inside the massive, shaded cavern from the low desert sun and glare.


And this view out…


Now change the focus and light exposure, to see that distant view…



His work proves his careful study of form with function, not just form’s dominance.

FLW was apparently a “chick magnet”, not lacking some negative traits that comes with that. Yet, he also seemed down-to-earth, teachable, and approachable, unlike some of the unapproachable divas / divos populating some ranks in architecture and art.

Not that I have had the temptation of offing a few of the above; my former career was just dandy with so much fair, respectful treatment, always both ways. <sarcasm>

In some circles, LAs included, the practice of rubber-stamping a design onto totally different landforms or climates is the bottom of the barrel. Like uppity-hippie contrians who luck into influence in horticulture, please do us a favor before you expire…retire and write fiction, not fiction as fact.

There! I’m more onto you than what you fear others see.

Others who’s works I’ve seen over the decades, actual architects or designers who somehow had the word “architecture” applied to them yet without registration to use that title / act, often miss critical parts of their designs like the land. (think Donald Judd in Marfa or Robert Irwin) They and their teary-eyed disciples miss what any desert designer worth their salt considers as a given: passive water harvesting, habitat, durable materials, economy, and native plant species, especially lower water-use ones.

Dear G*d they miss the importance of the actual land!

FLW got site before site savvy was cool. Compare Falling Water in wet, continental, and mid-latutude forest western Pennsylvania to Talliesen West in arid, southwetern, and subtropical desert Scottsdale.

I can’t wait to read up on him more, including the book on his relationships with his wives over the years. Three Mrs. Wrights may make up for some wrongs?


His foundation preserved this vast foreground of Sonoran Desert perfection, though the new development to the right and far beyond looks much like my part of Las Cruces, houses all with broad porches peering out into the desert valley.



Imagine what FLW would have altered from the above with siting and outdoor environments in arid, warm-temperate Albuquerque and Las Cruces…or sub-humid, subtropical Austin…or semi-arid, continental-bipolar Denver…or arid, continental Reno or Boise…and so on.

I doubt it would be a grid of lollipop trees or succulents in cor-ten in front of an off-white adobe, bought at $30K in ruins then being sold a decade later post-renovation at $750K in minimalist iconagraphy.  (nothing personal, nouvelle Marfans)


Better yet, what would you do? Ponder that whether it was your money, or it was your design expertise with someone else’s money.


Polka dots of palo verdes, everywhere



No turfgrass used anywhere else…brownie points from Dave!


Without the constantly overt desert southwest imagery, his own sculptures are great. I assume they are all his design, as were placement of his boulders with petroglyphs, and he designed many of his furnishings, possibly down to his clothing for all I know.

His sculptures are very influenced by the southwest, yet his own style, too.


Yes, my old friend Opuntia engelmannii




So, there’s yet another semester course digest, and another perfect weather day to savor, before “it” arrives soon enough!


5/1/19 weather:
83F / 60F / 0.00 or 28c / 16c / .00



“When a landscape uses too many cactus and related plants, the effect is often lost and is usually harsh and uninviting.” – paraphrase, author / activist / plant gatekeeper


Or this:


I’m glad those with regional inspiration and design skill didn’t abide by such a mindset. Their desert eyes are on. Probably with SPF 50 on their exposed skin.

That scene at the Desert Botanical Garden is Sonoran, except the Yucca rostrata on the far right.


If you’re in the southwest desert, but a cooler zone, you can create much of that magic and drama. I already know what I would substitute to get that effect and the next bit of drama in Las Cruces or El Paso, Albuquerque, and even a bit outside that region, up in Santa Fe.

Such effects can be pulled off easily and adapted on the coasts, and even without most of the succulent forms in the central great plains or more northerly intermountain areas.


Just 1 aisle over, this came into view. I’ve not been here in late light to notice before, but after framing out the valley girls v. 2019, it’s serious green plant drama.

This amount of Opuntia still works, because of the linear and rectilinear forms.



In this garden, there’s scale. Many public botanical gardens have money and scale, anyway.

But it’s who does what with all that.

There’s intellect in design, which combines function and form, then layers in local biology, whimsy, order, repetition, scale, and all those other classic design principles. It’s really quite the arsenal to choose from.

“Be bold and great things will happen to you.” – yes!


4/30/19 weather:
84F / 59F / 0.04 or 29c / 15c / .10

Power of Repetition

Some people are encouraged to be redundant, and have nothing to say. Others are not wanted to be redundant, because what they say might cause thinking.

Redundant or repetition?

Design is not always so personal and never mean, though design that comes from the personality is inviting.

Nearing high noon at the Desert Botanical Garden, this comes into view once you pay for admission.


The 90 degree intersection of the low seat  / garden wall through the line of Ferocactus wislizeni is effective!

In my case, I bought a membership, as I’ll be frequenting it often with my various company I have all summer. I might even go back a couple more times this week. Members also get in at 6 am, which Sonoran Desert dwellers know as that hour when it’s tolerable outside in summer.


A grove of flexible, white-trunked Mariosousa willardiana really provides a cooling visual.


Scott in Tucson tells me his took 16F with no damage, so the books need some revising. But Juan Blanco in El Paso said 5F (plus 66 consecutive hours below 32F) froze all specimens of the same species in their garden. So, let that inform you as to hardiness, though Tucson to El Paso is more different than some perceive.

There’s much to the 32F mark and how it happens or the duration, so yet another big coffin nail to those who dislike lists, patterns, and statistics…

This exfoliating bark…



These 1991 City Boundary Project markers point to the summer solstice’s sunrise direction. I hope to visit then. Fewer stone columns would not be as effective as what the Martino / Pinto team did here.



And my favorite place on my hour-plus walk Thursday afternoon, following some other visits and $11 yet mediocre ice cream. It’s Scottsdale, after all, so you can pay alot for perfection or the opposite.

This is an interior design firm’s front, which appears to not connect to their parking lot…the entrance looked as though it was on the side.


Masses of small agaves with the gray concrete planter curb works so well. I had a residential client who moved before I got to see a smaller scale of that I envisioned fill in.

If I had a design office again, I would do so much differently, including use the sourcing model of many interior designers and architects like the diva, which helps pay more and gets you something like this.

“If” may need to become “when”!

Their wood planters framing the front are me…their upward taper, and the pair of aloes contained within.


The designer here really created some interest, in the intense light of the low desert, more spreading and scattered than the laser-beam focus of the high desert. This light bleaches the terra cotta, concrete, and wood out visually and in a few years, literally.

And this works.

Far better than temporary plantings, where much needs to be removed and redone to satisfy those without enough patience.

“Never give up”, someone once said.


4/27/19 weather:
95F / 70F / 0.00 or 35c / 21c / 0.0
(we hit 101F Friday, so now we’re getting closer to summer…but that’s still late spring in the low desert)