Architecture and Design

Frank Lloyd Wright Documentary to Premiere at Taliesin West

Andrew Pielage
This Wednesday, you can watch a documentary about Frank Lloyd Wright's life while lounging in his personal theater.
On Wednesday, May 2, the United States premiere of the BBC documentary Frank Lloyd Wright: The Man Who Built America will be held at Taliesin West, allowing for guests to live as Wright did, at least for an hour.

The film will screen inside the late architect's private theater at his Arizona home, located at 12621 North Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard in Scottsdale, where he spent the last 20 years of his life watching films.

Jeff Goodman, the marketing and communication director for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, will host the screening and a conversation with the films' director, Ian Michael Jones. This event is part of the Taliesin Next series of programming, celebrating Wright's legacy.

Production on the documentary began in tandem with Wright's 150th birthday last June. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation did a large media push, encouraging conversation about Wright's work and ideas around the world. Around then, the BBC approached Goodman about making a documentary that was ideologically similar to the Foundation's message.

Goodman says the goal is to make Wright more relevant now than he was during his own lifetime. “His ideas and principles and buildings were so forward-looking that only now is technology starting to catch up with them,” he says.

So Goodman connected Jones and the filming crew to nine Wright properties across the country where they documented his work, recontextualizing it in the present-day.

"... It's not a history lesson as much as it is a look at a life and its continued relevance," Goodman says of the documentary. "The other connection that's really interesting is that BBC Wales did this and Wright's family comes from Wales. So there's a really deep historic connection between these people and the family that went to the U.S. out of which came the architect that changed the world."

Even in his lifetime, the American architect was perceived as an artist with global importance. Perhaps one of Wright's most famous late-career buildings, Gammage Auditorium, 1200 South Forest Avenue in Tempe, was originally slated to be an opera house in Baghdad, Iraq. Goodman argues that Wright's architecture universality comes from the brightness of his designs that strived to make people's lives better.

"Up until Frank Lloyd Wright came on the scene, there was a very conventional approach to architecture," Goodman says. "A house was a box and inside that box was smaller boxes, and maybe there was a little window so you could see the weather outside. When Frank Lloyd Wright came on the scene, he broke the box. He created open floor plans with floor-to-ceiling windows, ways for natural light to flood in, but most importantly, a way for people to connect with people around them and the landscape that surrounded them."

At the time, it was a new way to live and design spaces. Now, it's widely accepted, and Goodman says Wright's influence can be seen around the world. Thus, Wright's work still remains modern despite the fact that he was born in the 19th century.

Welsh architect Jonathan Adams narrates The Man Who Built America, touching on that global interest and especially that of the United Kingdom, a main topic of conversation planned for Wednesday's screening.

Events like the Taliesin Next series is one of the ways that the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation expands and diversifies its offerings. Inviting people into Wright's home to watch a documentary means that the Foundation can attract a different audience than the normal museum visitors.

“We need to create content and programs for people that might not even know who Wright is," Goodman says. "But maybe they're interested in some of the innovate work we're doing to conserve energy at Taliesin West, or the performing arts programs or fashion or branding. Really, to preserve a legacy we need to introduce this audience to younger generations.”

Using the spaces inside Taliesin West as they were intended is one way of attracting fresh eyes to Wright's work.

“We want for Taliesin West to be more than just a museum that people come up here and look at, take a tour, and go away,” Goodman says. “We want to make sure we’re providing people with opportunities to experience the spaces that way the architect intended them to be experienced. That means not just looking at the theater spaces, but sitting in the seat and watching a movie."

Taliesin Next - Documenting Wright is at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 2. The documentary screening and following conversation are at Taliesin West, 12621 North Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, in the Cabaret Theatre. Tickets are free for students and Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation members and $15 otherwise. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation website.