The first time I visited Scottsdale, I was staying at a friend’s house and went out for a run the first morning. I memorized the features of the house: Terracotta walls, pool in the backyard, Saguaro cactus out front. Thirty sweaty minutes later, just as the morning sun was starting to really show its heat, I made my way around the last turn and counted the three houses on the left to where I had left off…or so I thought.
The vehicle in the driveway wasn’t the right colour, the Saguaro wasn’t quite as tall. I scratched my head, looking left and right. It looked like the right street, but it wasn’t. The next 15 minutes played out a bit like Groundhog Day, circling the streets until I found my destination. Needless to say, I wasn’t marveling at Scottsdale’s creativity when it comes to architectural design.
All that changed on my most recent visit, when I had the chance to really see what Scottsdale had to offer.
Taliesin West – Photo by Jenn Dykstra, Open Image Photography
When you walk into the low foyer of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West home and studio overlooking Scottsdale, Arizona, you can’t help but cower under the low, enclosed ceiling, your eyes scanning their way ahead. Unlike grander foyers, you don’t linger here, you move forward, drawn to the tall and airy living room and away from the cavern-like entranceway.
Architectural Detail at Taliesin West – Photo by Jenn Dykstra, Open Image Photography
While Frank Lloyd Wright wasn’t a very tall man, this unique design element was very intentional. You see, he didn’t want his guests to linger at the door upon arrival to his home, or when leaving for that matter, so the low ceiling created a sense of wanting to move – in or out. And that’s how Wright liked it.
That’s how some people feel about the desert – a place to move through, a quick stop on a road trip or seen at high speeds from the air-conditioned comfort of a vehicle. But taking a closer look reveals that life abounds in the desert, and the vibrancy and warm hues the desert light can cast has inspired the architecture for decades.
While Frank Lloyd Wright had his share of eccentricities, the legacy he left behind for American architecture is undeniable. Taliesin West, which today is home to a school of architecture, keeps his vision alive in the suburbs of Scottsdale, a city perhaps not typically known for its feats of architecture.
But Wright saw the desert differently, and visionaries since his time have done the same, creating architectural jewels in their own right. Sure, Scottsdale has its share of monochromatic-coloured homes, each one as consistent as the unending days of blue-sky weather, but the new Scottsdale has much more character than first meets the eye.
Mid-Century Modern Beauty at Hotel Valley Ho – Photo by Jenn Dykstra, Open Image Photography
If Frank Lloyd Wright shouts mid-century modern, the Hotel Valley Ho in Old Town Scottsdale screams it from its 360-degree rooftop patio. Once a well-known hideaway for Hollywood royalty in the 1950s and 1960s, the hotel was initially built in 1956, a time when Scottsdale had just a few thousand residents.
Says Kristin Heggli, Director of PR and Communications at Hotel Valley Ho, “The hotel was purchased in 2002, and an $80 million dollar renovation followed, building on our history and creating a sleek, modern space with a strong nod to our mid-century roots.”
Clean, light and bright at Hotel Valley Ho – Photo by Jenn Dykstra, Open Image Photography
Entering the lobby is like walking into a fabulous mid-century movie set, until you make your way to the indoor-meets-outdoor Zuzu restaurant, just steps from a large, circular outdoor pool where you almost feel like you could find yourself lounging next to Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor.
The hotel has even launched its Insider Mid-Century Tour of Scottsdale, incredible buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright and other notable Valley architects. You’ll discover the history of the Hotel Valley Ho, followed by the Garden Apartment District. Then, lunch at local favorite Postino Highland, housed in a stunning mid-century building. It’s followed by an extensive walking tour of the Price House in Paradise Valley, the largest house that Frank Lloyd Wright built in Arizona.
The vast investment of the renovation and restoration of the hotel is evident in the clean, contemporary-meets-mid-century feel of the oversized rooms and suites. Steps away from the hotel, you are walking distance to the dining, shopping and entertainment venues of Old Town Scottsdale.
Pool views at Hotel Valley Ho – Photo by Jenn Dykstra, Open Image Photography
Heading north out of Scottsdale, the landscape becomes more rugged, hundreds Saguaro cacti waving at you as you pull away from the city and into the Sonoran desert. Watch for the signs, as The Boulders Resort & Spa can be hard to spot from the road, and that’s the way they like it.
Carved among 12 million year old granite rock, The Boulders is a sweet retreat. “The Rock” (which is literally what you think it is) is the centerpiece of the resort, where you can try your hand at rock climbing or clambering up the boulder to get a 360-degree vista of the desert landscape, and uncovering traces of dwellings from first nations residents from hundreds of years ago.
Rico Riley at The Boulders Resort and Spa – Photo by Jenn Dykstra, Open Image Photography
Says in-house guide Rico Riley, who made this way to the desert years ago from Indiana, “It’s wonderful to see people relax here, and become a little less preoccupied with the world. For many, they’ll have their first rock climbing experience, or just enjoy the sense of retreat by being in the desert.” Even novices can take part, with Riley ensuring “Safety first, enjoyment second” with every adventure he leads, whether it be rock climbing, moonlight mountain biking, or hiking.
In sync with nature at The Boulders – Photo by Jenn Dykstra, Open Image Photography
Unique features of the Boulders Resort is that there are no straight lines – not one. And that’s intentional, says Kim McDowell, Sales Manager for the resort, “Everything is rounded, from the roads to the walls of each of the casitas, to our walking paths. It’s meant to mimic the round edges of the desert and rocks in the area, creating a very natural look to the resort. It has a very relaxing quality to it.” Even the spa has a circular labyrinth meditation path, helping guests shed their city worries in between treatments inspired by the Sonoran environment and culture.
The architect of the Resort got to know the land, well before the Resort was built. Says Riley, “The architect camped on the site for a year, sketching it out, and preserving the natural aspects of it, leaving room for the Saguaro cactus to grow, and keeping it as a wildlife corridor.”
In fact, it’s not uncommon for guests to catch glimpses of bobcats and coyotes in the area. So while The Boulders may not have drawn inspiration from that desert’s most famous mid-century architect, like Wright it leveraged the most that mother nature has to offer to create a place of serenity.
So the next time you visit Scottsdale, look beyond what you think you might see, and enjoy some of the architectural gems that beckon.
If you go:
For more information, visit Experience Scottsdale.