Explore Architecture + Design in Scottsdale, Arizona
Go beyond golf courses and spas to discover Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture, art galleries and midcentury modern hotels.
Photo By: Meredith Rosenberg
Photo By: Hotel Valley Ho
Photo By: Andrew Pielage
Photo By: Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa
Photo By: Schultzdigital.com
Photo By: An Pham for Experience Scottsdale
Photo By: Mountain Shadows
Photo By: The Scott Resort & Spa
Photo By: Postino Highland
Photo By: Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
It’s impossible to discuss Scottsdale’s design scene without first mentioning Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home. (If you’re wondering, the original Taliesin is located in Wisconsin, where Wright summered.) The Southwestern masterpiece is still surrounded by miles of desert, about half an hour outside of downtown Scottsdale. Built in 1937, the property started out as camping lite, with open-air buildings providing a true indoor/outdoor experience. Despite this, Wright mandated formal night for his guests once a week: Think tuxedos and ballgowns. Glass windows were added in the '50s, although each of the separate structures (living room, bedrooms, office, etc.) still maintain their initial vibe.
Decor isn’t a faithful recreation of the original, but the rest of Wright’s signature design is intact, reflected in a compilation of open-floor plans, strategic sightlines and local building materials. All of this is surrounded by manicured grounds embedded with reflecting pools and orange trees filled with twittering quails, but Taliesin West isn’t just a living museum. The original studio where Wright and his apprentices once worked is now occupied by a small number of graduate students from The School of Architecture at Taliesin. Time your visit so you can witness the orange, yellow and red streaks of the desert sunset.
Hotel Valley Ho
Entering Hotel Valley Ho in Old Town Scottsdale is like stepping back in time, where continual '50s music featuring the likes of Ricky Nelson greets you, along with colorful midcentury modern furnishings. The hotel lobby alone feels like a set from Mad Men, and the lobby balcony did indeed exist during the era when Don Draper-types likely stayed there. From early on, Hotel Valley Ho attracted a Who’s Who of celebrities, proven by black-and-white framed photos showing the smiling faces of Zsa Zsa Gabor and Natalie Wood (Wood and Robert Wagner even held their wedding reception here). Designed by Edward Varney in 1956, some of the original hotel bones are still intact, although $80 million in renovations were needed for it to remain open. These were finished in 2005, adding a suite-only tower wing, spa, pool and restaurant.
You can learn all about these aspects and more during the hotel's 90-minute Magical History Tour, which, if you’re lucky, will be led by local personality Ace Bailey herself. Bailey runs the Ultimate Art and Culture Tours and just added the Insider Mid-Century Tour of Scottsdale. The latter starts with the Magical History Tour before moving on to explore more midcentury architecture at the nearby Garden Apartment District and other points of interest in the area.
The Price House is one of the stops on the aforementioned Insider Midcentury Tour of Scottsdale, as it’s among the many properties that Frank Lloyd Wright designed over the years — it’s also considered the largest in Arizona. Wright completed the home in 1955 for Harold and MaryLou Price, who used it as their winter home and for hosting their six grandchildren. As such, the 5,000-square-foot property includes seven bedrooms and bathrooms on nine acres. The interior has been well-preserved, and those familiar with Taliesin West will notice similarities between the two. Here, it’s represented in an open-air atrium containing a fountain and skylight, along with bedrooms located in separate wings. While the private house is open to visitors, tours must be scheduled in advance by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows
Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows entered the midcentury modern scene in 2017 with a striking glass-and-metal structure greeting guests. This is where you’ll find the open lobby that flows into the stylishly modern Weft & Warp Art Bar + Kitchen. Like neighboring Scottsdale hotels, this Paradise Valley addition embraces the indoor/outdoor life. Here, it’s exemplified with 185 bungalows scattered around the property, many with private terraces and patios. All rooms are decorated in the midcentury mod style, although the bungalow suites go next level with individual takes from this period. For example, there are 16 Cattle Track Suites that are loaded with handcrafted art and furniture from the nearby Cattle Track Arts, a longtime artist community that’s open to the public. (Or Andaz can arrange more personalized visits.) Cattle Track also contributes furniture and artwork around the property, like the fuzzy balls hanging behind the check-in desk. Even better, the compound is close enough to walk to, or the hotel can provide a free Tesla ride there or anywhere else within five miles. The resort also offers a private section consisting of 20 bungalows. These come with access to a private pool and are ideal for small groups. Otherwise, the property’s main pool should suffice for everyone else and is conveniently located across from the restaurant.
Cattle Track Arts
Speaking of Cattle Track, this live/work artist community is just a 10-minute drive from Old Town, but you’re unlikely to find it unless you’re actively looking. Even ride share drivers aren’t sure where to drop you off (it’s the second driveway) and though the collective is open to the public seven days a week without an appointment, it feels like you’ve stumbled onto private property where it can be confusing where to enter. (Hint: Follow the red sidewalk to the barn for art studios, and look for a green roof for the gallery.) Don’t let any of this deter you, because behind the dusty yard filled with trucks and sculptures resides a notable group of photographers, painters, jewelers, sculpture artists and more. Five handpicked artists live on site, and 11 have studios. Among them is Mark McDowell (pictured), an artist who’s lived on the property since the '70s. (Those staying at Andaz will likely see his artwork in their rooms.) The one-time trapeze artist with the Flying Walendas has spent most of his career in fine art. His studio recently contained a large-scale pencil drawing of a circus tent that took him a year to finish. The piece will next appear at the Dallas Museum of Art. A huge bonus is Cattle Track’s artist-in-residency program: The public can currently watch magician Craig Davis perform evenings.
For more galleries, architect Paolo Soleri originally constructed Cosanti Originals in Scottsdale as an archetype for Arcosanti, an experimental live/work community about 70 miles north of Phoenix in the middle of the Sonoran desert. But that’s a separate story and worthy of a day trip for those who have time. If not, Cosanti, loosely translated to anti-materialism, provides a microcosm of Soleri’s vision. The Italian-born architect, a former Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice, constructed the space in the '50s, resulting in a collection of sustainable, dome-shaped buildings. He and his apprentices lived and created bronze and ceramic bells, whose proceeds helped to support both Cosanti and Arcosanti.
Today, Cosanti offers weekday tours, and visitors can even watch the bells — mostly replicas of the originals — being crafted. Otherwise, guests are free to visit seven days a week, and bells and other ceramic-ware for sale are displayed throughout like a gallery. Small bells start at about $32, but full-scale originals weighing upwards of 35 pounds will run you closer to $40,000.
Mountain Shadows started life in 1959 in Paradise Valley, a wealthy town near Scottsdale, and its midcentury modern looks quickly attracted the attention of Hollywood and the international crowd. But all good things come to an end, and Mountain Shadows eventually closed in 2004 and fell into a dilapidated state over the years. It began life anew in 2017, and while not a faithful recreation of the original, there are nods to the first iteration. Hewing to the midcentury aesthetic, floor-to-ceiling windows abound in the two-level structure, including the guest rooms. Indoor/outdoor features, especially in the dining area and central courtyard, also make the most of the surrounding scenery, as it would be a shame not to gaze at Camelback Mountain every chance you get.
Besides stunning architecture, two 75-foot pools (heated in the winter) are a standout feature, as is the short golf course. If that’s not enough to keep you entertained, a series of new events will. On the menu for 2019, you’ll find monthly star-gazing events (complete with an astronomer and cocktails), ongoing dinners with master sommeliers and private dinners on the golf course. Fitness additions introduce moonlight yoga and paddleboarding in the pool. Those staying in rooms with bathtubs (versus glass showers) have the option to ring a bath butler to draw a candlelit bubble bath soak.
The Scott Resort and Spa
Continuing the trend of 2017 hotel additions, Kimpton’s Firesky Resort underwent a major renovation and rebranding to be reborn as The Scott Resort and Spa. In a departure from the midcentury modern style that dominates the area, the Scott took inspiration from Cuba for its Mission Revival and Bauhaus design. Why Cuba? Well it turns out that Cuban native Julian Duarte played a major role working with Winfield Scott, Scottsdale’s founder. The expansive, light-filled lobby immediately sets the scene, making it feel as though you’ve stumbled from the desert into a Cuban mirage. A tree takes center stage, surrounded by rattan furniture, comfy couches, palms and hanging plants.
Past the lobby, the lush grounds reveal two lagoon-shaped pools and a small pond. Inside, rooms favor woods, natural colors, Cuban wall decor and midcentury modern furniture. If you happen to fall in love with any of the decor, you can actually buy much of it online. For example, the bar carts come from Target, while the velvet chairs are from Anthropologie. Beyond the rooms, guests can also take advantage of the spa and Canal Club Restaurant, the latter serving Caribbean-inspired fare.
Design buffs should make a point to eat at Postino Highland, a newish Italian-style restaurant next to The Scott Resort and Spa and a short drive from Old Town. Architect Frank Henry, a Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice, designed the midcentury modern building in the '60s. The building originally housed a Valley National Bank, and the restoration project referred to Henry’s architectural drawings. As a result, an original cantilevered glass box now contains an 18-seat bar, along with era-appropriate Sputnik chandeliers. Besides the chandeliers, other key elements were recreated, such as the 10-foot-long metal screen found in the dining room and the futuristic bulbs hovering over each table. Admire these details while trying all manner of bruschetta (brie and apple, prosciutto with figs, etc.) and paninis or simply taking advantage of $5 wines during happy hour. And if the weather’s nice, patio seating allows you to study the original water fountains.
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
Finally, lovers of architecture, design and contemporary art need look no further than Old Town for the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. If the museum building itself strikes you, that’s because award-winning architect Will Bruder designed it. The small museum is home to four galleries featuring a permanent collection and rotating exhibits. A current one showcases work from award-winning Carla Fernandez and Pedro Reyes, Mexican artists who portray an alternate reality via posters, fashion, video and more. Catch it for free on Thursdays and Fridays and Saturday nights. Also, check the museum calendar beforehand for special events like how to dye fibers using Southwestern materials, film screenings, trivia night and cake decorating.