Film and TV

How Frank Lloyd Wright's Architecture Inspired Game of Thrones Set

Helen Sloan/HBO
Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) discuss strategy in Meereen Palace.
Speculation abounds, now that the final episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones will soon be upon us. Will Jon Snow take the Iron Throne? Or will someone else claim the ultimate seat of power?

Over at Taliesin West, the summer home renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright built in Scottsdale in 1937, they’ve taken to imagining Wright himself sitting atop the famed throne.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation was quick to spot Wright’s influence on the Game of Thrones set design, so they reached out to HBO to learn more. Turns out, production designer Deborah Riley drew on her knowledge of two Wright-designed homes while creating the show’s Meereen Palace – the Ennis House and the Hollyhock House.

They’re both located in Los Angeles, but the elements Riley drew from are also central to the architecture for the Arizona Biltmore, a landmark hotel that opened in Phoenix in 1929. Riley used Wright’s textile block design, which was also integral to architect Albert Chase McArthur’s Arizona Biltmore project, where Wright served as a consulting architect.

For his textile blocks, Wright impressed concrete with three-dimensional designs, which bear some similarities to blocks used in Mayan architecture seen in Mexico, although Mayans created their designs by actually carving the stone. Riley’s design references Wright’s embrace of Mayan architectural elements.

"The Mesopotamian, pre-Columbian elements in Wright's work can be a metaphor for power," says Phoenix architect Victor Sidy. "The show uses the iconography of power, making the architecture itself one of the characters."

Several Game of Thrones settings remind Sidy of another Frank Lloyd Wright design, set atop a hill overlooking the Valley below. It's the 1940 Rose Pauson House built near 32nd Street and Camelback Road in Phoenix, which burned to the ground after fireplace embers reached a nearby curtain. "Wright understood that putting a house on a hill gives it a certain presence."

click to enlarge Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) confer in Meereen Palace. - HELEN SLOAN/HBO
Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) confer in Meereen Palace.
Helen Sloan/HBO
Riley pulled in other Frank Lloyd Wright design elements as well, including geometric stained-glass windows. You only have to recall the recent tragic fire at Notre Dame in Paris to appreciate the power of a spectacular stained-glass window.

She’s done interviews citing Notre Dame, as well as the Salk Institute designed by architect Louis Kahn, as design influences for the Game of Thrones scene in which Daenerys returns to her ancestral homeland of Dragonstone.

Riley also made sure that sunlight would stream through Meereen Palace, creating a dramatic effect that heightens the emotional impact of everything that happens there. Not that viewers need any more drama after witnessing Daenerys Targaryen’s latest homicidal rampage.

The Australian designer learned about Frank Lloyd Wright, who was 91 when he died in Phoenix in 1959, while studying architecture. Game of Thrones fans have another resource, in Taliesin West, which offers regular tour and talks focused on his Wright’s work. The current issue of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation's quarterly newsletter features their conversation with Riley.

Like everyone else, the Taliesin West folks are speculating about who’ll end up on the Iron Throne during the season finale. It won’t be Wright, although there is an imposing sculpture of Frank Lloyd Wright atop a tall pedestal in a downtown Chandler park, where the famed architect stands a far better chance of long-term survival.