Frank Lloyd Wright was still working on a couple of designs at the end of his life. One, First Christian Church, was completely built after he died. Another, the Gammage Auditorium, was the project he was working on when he died. First Christian Church is in Phoenix. The Gammage is in Tempe, which has become part of the Phoenix megalopolis. Neither design gets much publicity. The very active First Christian Church, which I wrote about on March 5, 2019, under the title “Wright’s Unknown Phoenix”, only gives tours by appointment. The Gammage on the campus of Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe, has become Phoenix’s main live entertainment venue and, for now, only gives tours on Monday at 1, 2, and 3 pm.
Two years before Frank Lloyd Wright died, the President of ASU, Grady Gammage, was hoping to create a university auditorium on his campus. He knew Wright and phoned him. Wright had designed an opera house to be built in Baghdad, Iraq, but that project fell through, so he offered this design to Gammage. This circular auditorium seating more than 3,000 that the President OK’d wasn’t completed until 1964, 5 years after Wright’s death. Construction began in 1962. The entire building was competed for $2½ million because common materials like colored cement plaster and ordinary bricks were used. The colors chosen mocked the hues of the desert with 57 shades of terra cotta employed. Turquoise accents provided contrast for this building that is equal to an 8-story building.
Wright, known for his innovative architecture, provided a huge venue for ASU with no seat more than 115 feet from the stage and all seats arranged for maximum viewing. He was known by this time for perfecting acoustics, but the sound in Gammage needed work. Adjustments were made when renovations were done. Performers can be unamplified and still be heard throughout the theater. That’s part of the reason why Broadway comes to Phoenix in this building. Over time, the structure has proved versatile, and it serves both university and community needs. When a show like Hamilton or Book of Mormon comes to the area, it plays at The Gammage.
Frank Lloyd Wright was involved in this huge project for the last 2 years of his life. Another major complex Frank Lloyd Wright designed before he died at the age of 91 that was completed after his death was the Marin County Civic Center. The Gammage is an understated yet impressive building. I would never have known who designed it if I hadn’t learned At Taliesin West where Wright was spending every winter had been responsible for creating the only public building in Arizona designed by America’s most famous architect.