Stuart Graff describes himself as a “transplanted Chicagoan via global exploration, recovering corporate attorney and business leader, and lifelong student of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright.” In 2016, he accepted the position of president and CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and moved from Chicago to the Valley. He is now based at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s (1867-1959) winter home and school. He talked with us about Taliesin West, living in the Valley and his other Frank Lloyd Wright obsession.
Describe what you do as CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
My job is to inspire others to find a better, more beautiful and more sustainable way to live, based on the work of America’s greatest architect. We use Wright’s two homes, Taliesin and Taliesin West, to provide the experience of his ideas and to teach his principles; and we use them to demonstrate innovations in the field of architecture that allow us to live more sustainably with the world around us.
Why should people visit Taliesin West?
Taliesin West inspires the imagination with timeless, extraordinary architecture set in the midst of 500 acres of the majestic Sonoran Desert. It’s a unique opportunity to explore how one can live in harmony with the landscape, and to create a relationship with the world that will last beyond your visit.
Where is your favorite spot at Taliesin West?
Wright’s garden room, with its stunning hearth and framed vistas overlooking the cinder cones to the east. It just makes me happy. The filtered light coming through the roof, the sense of being neither inside nor outside—or being in both spaces at once—and the relationship to the landscape make the day a bit more peaceful. And when a bobcat comes through the garden, you just can’t help but feel enraptured.
Why is Wright still so relevant today?
His ideas about sustainable design—which he called organic architecture—show that we need not compromise beauty and comfort to live as one with the world around us. Many of those ideas can now be realized through new technologies that did not exist in his time, but have emerged only in recent years.
What is your vision for Taliesin West?
We’re working to better tell the story of Wright’s work, creating not just great architecture, but building a community around ideas of beauty, sustainability and interdependence. In some ways, we are just extending the work that Wright did in his time.
What changes have you implemented?
We’ve worked hard to move away from the typical house museum that focuses only on the past to explore how Wright’s legacy also teaches us how to live today and in the future. We’ve also added performances, lectures and other public programs, partnering with other great Valley arts and culture organizations to be a lively place filled with delights and to stimulate creativity, confidence and analytics in a fun and exciting atmosphere.
On a personal note, what else do you love about the Valley?
The desert is just endlessly fascinating. The rich variety of plants, the close relationship we can have here with the wildlife around us, the mountains that run through and around the city, and of course, the sky and sunsets. There's no better place to see the sunset than Taliesin West, overlooking the whole Valley.
Do you have any favorite restaurants in town?
We're big fans of ethnic dining, so Barrio Gran Reserva (Mexican), Glai Baan (Thai) and Cafe Lalibela (Ethiopian) are our favorites. But I love my Chicago deep dish, too, and a visit to Lou Malnati's every few weeks is required.
What about other favorite locales around the Valley?
Coming from the flatland of Illinois, we love to hike in the mountains around the Valley. There are great design stores, like For the People, and snazzy clothing at Robert Graham at Scottsdale Fashion Square that are go-to shopping destinations. There's also a lot of really great local art in and around Phoenix that people outside the state just don't know about, and we've had a lot of fun exploring visual and performing arts throughout the area.
If you were to travel to visit another FLW locale outside of Arizona, where are you headed?
There are so many options all over America, but at the moment I’m a bit obsessed with his textile block houses in and around Los Angeles. Precursors to the Arizona Biltmore, they are visually and structurally daring and at the same time, places for deep contemplation.