Jason Wise, file, Associated Press
MILWAUKEE — Frank Lloyd Wright's strong appreciation and respect for nature factored heavily into his designs for hundreds of structures. In keeping with his legacy, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation will try to modernize the architect's winter home, Taliesin West, with environmentally friendly updates and attempt to lower its annual $200,000 energy bill.
Starting next month, construction will start at the National Historic Landmark, located in Scottsdale, Ariz., in an effort to bring down — and possibly eliminate — the sprawling compound's energy costs. A handful of Arizona companies are donating 4,000 solar panels, replacing 5,000 light bulbs and making the roofs and windows more energy efficient.
Sean Malone, president and chief executive officer at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, told The Associated Press ahead of the official announcement that the home is already a role model for organic or sustainable architecture — Wright nestled the building into the desert foothills of the McDowell Mountains and used nearby sand and stones to build its walls. The upgrades will now help the home become a model of sustainable energy, he said.
"It's something that is entirely consistent with the history and values of Taliesin West," Malone said.
The foundation operates Taliesin West and Taliesin in Spring Green, Wis., does student outreach programs and runs the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture — in Milwaukee and Scottsdale — and the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives in Scottsdale.
Malone believes Taliesin West is one of the first, if not the first, National Historic Landmark to have solar panels installed. Jeffrey Olson, spokesman for National Park Service, which runs the landmark program, said they have no way to track if other landmark buildings have solar panels.
At least one other Wright home, the Ross House in Glencoe, Ill., uses panels, said Janet Halstead, executive director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy in Chicago.
Wright built Taliesin West in 1937 as his winter home and studio. Twenty years passed before Taliesin West was wired for electricity, running on generators until then.
Any change must be done sensitively and in keeping with the original design, Halstead said. Having the landmark designation meant that the foundation had to abide by specific rules, which Malone said dealt with the home's appearance and materials used in its construction, among other things.
Wright didn't shy away from new technology and experimented with his designs, strategically placing windows and constructing overhangs to harness or deflect the sun's rays. Depending on the time of year — and position of the earth — a room could be heated by the sun or cooled by the shadows.
"He was one who incorporated many environmental considerations into his designs for aesthetic and practical value," Halstead said.
The company in charge of the upgrades, Phoenix-based Big Green Zero, says the 500-acre property's historical appearance won't be affected. The thousands of solar panels, for instance, will be placed near existing electrical equipment and power transmission lines at the bottom of a slope. Part of the 1.9 acres of panels will be seen by visitors as they drive up to the main campus, but the vistas Wright designed the home to showcase won't be compromised, Malone said.
"It's not part of the nature that is brought into Frank Lloyd Wright spaces," Malone said. "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."
Robert Roth, CEO of Big Green Zero, hopes the solar panels will produce as much energy as the site consumes.
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