The Midwest’s most spectacular desert dwellings prove that no landscape is too arid to nurture groundbreaking design
As the sixties swung shut and the more austere seventies hove into view, the idea of the utopian commune was one of the ideas that endured. Arizona is home to one of the greatest: the desert city of Arcosanti.
Founded in 1970 by the late Italian architect Paolo Soleri, the site – on the edge of the Agua Fria National monument – was intended as an ‘urban laboratory’, a self-build city that had more in common with European hill-top communities than modern American sprawl.
Self-built over decades by over 7,000 volunteers who have lived and worked on the site, construction of this eclectic concrete community is still ongoing. Visitors can stay in guest accommodation and explore the café, workshops, galleries, studios and performance spaces.
Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort
Nowhere is Frank Lloyd Wright’s overarching influence on the local scene more evident than in the Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, a 1929 masterpiece in Phoenix.
Frequently misattributed to Wright, it was actually designed by one Albert Chase McArthur, a former draftsman at Wright’s studio. McArthur asked for his old employer’s counsel, and he got it, specifically with regards to the use of the ‘textile blocks’ system on the façade, a well-known Wright device.
But the design was all his, and the hotel evolved into a legendary destination, much-loved for its oasis-like charm as well as its intense, all-consuming design.
Wright’s desert studio, Taliesin West in Scottsdale, is the region’s masterpiece. Low-lying and set deep within the landscape, the house and studio is still a school of architecture and home to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
Set over 500 acres, it makes masterful use of the state’s primary currency: space; taming the desert through landscaping and gardens that flow in and out of the buildings and courtyards.
Begun in late 1937, every single facet of the space was overseen by Wright and his entourage of assistants and apprentices, from furniture to fabrics, crockery and decoration, much of it made on site as part of the apprenticeship program.
Tours of the site are available through the Foundation.
Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona
Sedona is Arizona’s spiritual outlet, a distant desert town tucked into a mesa-strewn valley. At sunset, the rocks glow red, casting a magical light over the main street’s shops, awash in New-Age trinkets sold by diehard advocates of the alternative lifestyle.
The area’s architectural masterpiece is the Chapel of the Holy Cross, an angular monolith that rises up to the south of the town, with window mullions forming a massive cross.
Local sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude initiated the project, and it was completed by Richard Hein and August K. Strotz in 1957. It remains one of America’s most distinctive modern churches.
Alfred Newman Beadle
In the post-war period, many architects made their stamp on the new housing and infrastructure that was sprouting up on the outskirts of cities such as Phoenix.
Perhaps the area’s best-known exponent of mid-century modernism was Alfred Newman Beadle, who designed homes, apartments and offices in the city, including the Triad Apartments, the only one of the 22 famous Case Study House projects to be built outside of California.
Known affectionately as ‘Beadle Boxes’, his designs were low-slung and sleek, the architectural equivalent of the era’s giant American cars.
The contemporary keeper of Arizona’s modernist flame, Rick Joy has won a clutch of awards for his very singular design approach.
The Tucson-based architect’s portfolio of desert homes takes Desert Modern to a new level, exploiting the luxury of minimal space and making beauty out of rough material including rusted steel and concrete.
A Joy house evokes land art or the minimalism of artists such as Donald Judd and Richard Serra.
Tour Arizona’s desert dwellings. Book your stay at Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort. More information at arizonabiltmore.com