Wright’s Taliesin West Targets Net Zero Energy

By: Matt Grocoff , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, House Styles, Green Renovations, Garden And Lawncare, Technology, Old House History, Historic Preservation

With the restoration of my family’s 111-year-old Mission Zero House in Ann Arbor, MI we proved that preservation and sustainability are intertwined and that even historic homes can achieve net zero energy. Now it’s time for sustainable historic properties to kick it up a notch.  This week the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation announced a strikingly bold project called “Energizing Taliesin West” with the goal of taking the National Historic Landmark Taliesin West to net zero - producing as much on-site renewable energy as the property occupants and visitors consume.

On the slopes of the McDowell Range outside Scottsdale, Arizona Taliesin West is the home of the main campus of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. In 1937, Wright built the home overlooking Paradise Valley as his winter residence and school for his apprentices.

Taliesin West embodies Wrights philosophy of “organic architecture”. Wright preached that buildings should emerge from and exist in harmony with the natural environment - that “form and function are one”. Architect Eric Corey Freed says that “Organic Architecture follows the design process of Nature - by adapting to each site, climate, and set of materials.” If Energizing Taliesin West can meet its net zero goal, it will be an honor to Wright’s legacy.

As with any net zero energy project, the first goal is to reduce energy consumption and maximize energy efficiency. I use a simple formula: Lose less. Use Less. Then Produce. While maintaining the historic integrity of the Taliesin West the project will improve the efficiency of the lighting, improve the insulation and use smart climate control systems.

After reducing the property’s baseline energy consumption, Arizona-based First Solar will install a 250 kW solar array boasting 4,000 panels. In simple language . . . that’s a big-ole honkin’ system that will generate enough electricity in one year to power my home for 35 years. Visitors will be able to see this colossal system from the road as they enter Taliesin West for tours. But, the panels will not be visible from any part of core of facility. So, Frank can rest easy in his grave knowing that the sweeping views from the home will not be disturbed.

For all of Wright’s virtuous musings of organic architecture, he made errors common among architects of his era and tried, often without success, to engineer his way around nature.  Despite the lack of water on the desert property, at the request of his third wife Olga he built Taliesin West with several large fountains and pools. His “organic” solution was to dig a deep well - and keep digging - until he hit water.

Creative Commons Photograph via Wikimedia Commons by Greg O’Beirne

Matt Grocoff, Esq. LEED is founder of Thrive - Net Zero Energy Consulting Collaborative, host of Greenovation.TV, a contributor to The Environment Report on Public Radio, the green renovation expert for Old House Web, and a sought after lecturer. His home is America’s oldest net-zero energy home and was called “Sustainable Perfection” by The Atlantic, and honored as one of USA Today’s seven “Best Green Homes of 2010″ and Preservation Project of the Year.  He has been featured in hundreds of publications and news shows including Washington Post, Detroit Free Press, Preservation Magazine, Solar Today, Fox Business News, Huffington Post and more.  Join him on Google+, Twitter and Facebook