Dear Grist: Frank Lloyd Wright Did Not Go Solar Posthumously; He Always Was

Taliesin West

I Gobeirne / Wikipedia Commons / CC BY 2.5

They are adding photovoltaics to Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West, the iconic winter residence, and school outside of Scottsdale, Arizona. Christopher Mims covers it for Grist, and titles his post, "Frank Lloyd Wright goes solar, posthumously." That is a misleading title and reflects the common attitude about what "going solar" means to some: Stick green gizmos on it.

When fact, Frank Lloyd Wright isn't going solar posthumously, he always was solar.

Taliesin West has been described as " at heart, a primitive camp, an elemental manifestation of Wright’s principles of organic design as applied to the desert environment." It didn't even have electricity for its first twenty years. According to The Washington Post,

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,”[Janet] Halstead said.

When Frank Lloyd Wright built Taliesin, it was meant as a seasonal building, used in winter only; living in the Phoenix area was tough before air conditioning was invented. But the building was low to the ground and enclosed by heavy rubble walls with thermal mass, canvas roofs to keep out the sun, and careful siting to catch the breezes.

It was a fundamental part of its being that it was "solar".

Jacobs Hemicircle House

But a better example of how Frank Lloyd Wright went solar while alive is the Jacobs House II, also known as the Hemicycle House. It was designed in a curve facing south, to catch the sun as it moved during the day. The overhangs were designed to keep out the higher summer sun. The rear was buried in a berm to reduce heat loss and protect the house from the cold north winds.

Jacobs Hemicircle House

This was solar design at its best.

Taliesin interior
 Kmaschke / Flickr

I know I shouldn't get so hot and bothered about a headline on a quickie post. But it summarizes such a common attitude, that solar is something that you add on instead of baking in. That it is all about gizmo green instead of about good design. When in fact, Frank Lloyd Wright went solar long before Christopher Mims or I were born.