Digitalising Frank Lloyd Wright's desert laboratory

Case Study

Author: Fred Prozzillo

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West was always a place of innovation and exploration, where the architect returned every fall to test the limits of architecture, design, and building. To continue this legacy, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation partnered with Leica Geosystems and Multivista to make Taliesin West a universal and accessible experience, as well as give a new depth of understanding into this unique and ever-evolving site.

Using the Leica BLK360 and the Matterport Pro2 3D Camera, Multivista conducted a series of 3D digital imaging laser scans of Wright’s winter camp, generating a highly-accurate, fully-detailed, 3D point cloud of the property, along with a high-definition virtual reality model.

Preserving masterworks

Digitalising Frank Lloyd Wright's desert laboratory

Recognised as one of Wright’s masterworks, Taliesin West was his winter home and studio in the desert of Arizona, United States. From 1938 to 1959, this is where Wright and his apprentices constantly experimented with different building techniques, forms, and materials. Each winter Wright would view his camp with a fresh eye, having spent his summers at his home in the Midwest United States. With a cadre of young apprentices to work on the buildings, he was free to make alterations and test his theories, treating Taliesin West as his architectural laboratory.

Wright always referred to Taliesin West as his “winter camp,” where four of the main structures were designed with a canvas roof. It was under the fabric roof of the drafting studio that apprentices assisted the master architect on the design of the Guggenheim Museum. For Wright, the canvas provided cover from the desert sun and produced wonderful filtered light for drafting. With spatial characteristics of an open-air pavilion, the fabric-roofed buildings seemed alive as desert breezes lifted the fabric as if the buildings were inhaling and exhaling. Over time, the buildings lost these important spatial and experiential characteristics to meet program needs, with hard acrylic panels replacing the canvas. The goal of the preservation team was to return the camp characteristics to the buildings.

Tools for visionaries

Digitalising Frank Lloyd Wright's desert laboratory

Taliesin West’s complex data set was captured by Multivista using Leica Geosystems’ BLK360. It proved to be an invaluable tool for the preservation work at Wright’s desert camp. The data provides the ability to access and assess elements of the site remotely in a meaningful way and provides a platform for cataloguing patterns of construction methodology and building condition assessments and documentation.

“True to our mission, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation is dedicated to preserving Taliesin and Taliesin West for future generations. Through our partnership with Leica Geosystems and Mulitvista, we’re able to carry out our mission, and Wright’s vision into the future, by making Taliesin West available to the world so it can experience his ideas, architecture and design in new ways,” said Stuart Graff, president and CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.

To embrace the original spirit of Taliesin West and support Wright’s legacy of change, Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation used the BLK360 to explore the space on a deep level. The 3D dimensionally-precise scans, and the detailed understanding of material, form, and space they provide, will be used as models to dissect and analyse minute details to identify construction methodologies.

Using this new data, research and planning are currently underway to test materials and installation techniques to implement a fabric roof system in the drafting studio and bring the poetry and movement back to the buildings, restoring the open-air camp-like feel of Taliesin West.

 Architectural enthusiasts welcome

Digitalising Frank Lloyd Wright's desert laboratory

The BLK360 provides data that was largely out of reach in the architectural industry. It creates an accurately scaled 3D digital replica— known as a point cloud— of the site, putting visual and dimensional project information. The point cloud will be used by the Frank Lloyd Wright foundation to analyse each space as they develop preservation plans.

The highly accurate measurements can be navigated from their desktop, or opened in a CAD design software, like AutoCAD or Revit, where the dimensional data can be used to build floorplans, elevations, and 3D models.

“Having the opportunity to work with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and Leica Geosystems’ new technologies on such a world-renowned site has been an amazing experience. This project has been a boundary-pushing exploration from day one, which seems so fitting for Taliesin West. While testing new software, hardware and workflows in order to create a dimensionally-accurate 3D point cloud that will be used for critical preservation-related decisions, it was equally important for us to invite the world to experience and be inspired by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright,” said Brian Smith, Multivista’s product manager of emerging technologies.

The brilliance of Wright’s architecture is the space within, not simply the parts and materials that make up the envelope. Leveraging the technology of Leica Geosystems and Multivista’s construction documentation service, Frank Lloyd Wright foundation is now able to fully understand, dissect, and analyse the details of the site and continue more thoroughly toward the goal of preserving and interpreting Taliesin West.

Click here to visit Taliesin West, the first Frank Lloyd Wright property made freely available online 


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