Questioning the Future of Architecture Education as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin School Closes

Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona (courtesy Andrew Pielage)

PHOENIX, Arizona — As students at the School of Architecture at Taliesin are adjusting to the institution’s apparent demise, architects are weighing in on the possible impact — and the way forward for architecture education.

School officials issued a formal announcement on January 28, indicating that the school would be closing by the end of June. It notes that the decision impacts about 30 students, who currently divide their time between Taliesin in Wisconsin and Taliesin West in Arizona.

The statement provides few details about the reasons the school is closing. Instead, it says that the school “was not able to reach an agreement with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation to keep the school open.” The foundation issued its own statement that day, suggesting that the school lacks a “sustainable business model” for continuing to operate its accredited program.

Neither school nor foundation officials are commenting at this point, although two members of the school’s board of directors wrote a guest column for a Wisconsin publication. Basically, it states that the foundation gave the school two options: cease operations, or create a new non-accredited school under foundation control.

“This was not necessary in any way,” says Reed Kroloff, who heads the College of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology. “It’s very disappointing that the foundation was not able to understand the value of the school.”

Students issued their own statement on January 31. “The imminent closure of the School of Architecture at Taliesin has left its student body stunned and deeply distraught,” they wrote. “To discontinue 88 years of a pedagogical model is at least as destructive as the demolition of a physical architectural masterwork.”

Aaron Betsky, the school’s president since 2015, has announced his plans to leave the school at the end of this semester. So far, neither the foundation nor the school have shared specific plans for helping students transition to other programs. Arizona has accredited architecture programs at both Arizona State University and the University of Arizona.

John Meunier, an emeritus professor of architecture at ASU, told Hyperallergic that the Taliesin school is an essential part of Wright’s legacy. He lamented “the loss of a unique architecture school that has had some very significant graduates” and fears it will become “a cadaver instead of a living breathing place.”

Meanwhile, the foundation is highlighting its educational programs for K-12 students. And Meunier is considering other options for continuing Wright’s legacy. “Cranbrook has a non-accredited architecture program that would be an interesting model to look at,” he said of Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Will Bruder, an architect whose designs include the Nevada Museum of Art and Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix, had a different take. He’s been inspired by Wright since childhood, when he stumbled onto a Wright-designed church while riding his bike. “When Wright passed, there should have never been a school,” he says.

Even so, he’s suggested that the Rural Studio design-build program affiliated with Auburn University and the American Academy in Rome could be good models for continuing Wright’s legacy. He’d like to see Taliesin offer six month fellowships through a global exchange program.

As supporters are seeking answers about the school’s closing, many architects continue to recognize the value of Wright’s work. “His philosophy of architecture has proven to be especially prescient,” Kroloff told Hyperallergic. “Wright was way ahead of his time on sustainability and cultural sensitivity.”

Taliesin student Kristen Ross insists there’s no replacement for Wright’s unique approach to learning by doing. She’s one of many students hoping the school can still be saved somehow. “We want this legacy to be there for future generations,” she said.

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