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By KathyWitkowsky
Scottsdale, Arizona
n a chill and clear desert morning at Taliesin
West, Frank LloydWright’s renowned Arizona
landmark, several tour groups meandered through the
main building, as they do every day, learning about Wright’s
“destruction of the box” through cantilevers and open floor
plans. Meanwhile, a small group of students at Wright’s
namesake school of architecture there were getting a literal
lesson in destruction. Using shovels and pickaxes, they
demolished the roof of a small outbuilding, chipping through
the light concrete and foam insulation, then tossing the debris
over the rooftop, where it piled up near a large saguaro cactus.
The roof demolition was the first phase of an expansion
project for a school computer laboratory. It also was
considered an essential part of the students’ education—a
chance for them to obtain hands-on construction experience.
During a short break, SarahMurphy, of Clearwater,
Minnesota, who said she decided to pursue her Bachelor
of Architectural Studies degree at the Frank LloydWright
School of Architecture because “it fit my personality better
than the normal school,” sipped lemonade and pointed out the
blisters on her hands to fellow student TonyWalker. He was
unsympathetic. After wiping the sweat from his forehead, he
removed first one glove and then the other to tick off proof of
his own efforts. “Blister, blister, blister,” chanted the 32-year-old
Master of Architecture candidate, jabbing at one palm before
turning to the other and repeating the observation.
“Oh, I’m not complaining,” respondedMurphy cheerily.
In fact, the 19-year-old
said that she considered
them “battle scars”: proof
of her commitment to
the school’s philosophy
of learning by doing—a
philosophy that is every
bit as important to the
school today as it was
when Frank Lloyd
Wright was alive. Widely
heralded as America’s
greatest architect, Wright’s
innovative building design overshadowed his contribution
to education: an architecture school so dedicated to the
integration of life, learning and work as to make them
virtually indistinguishable. Think of it as a 24-7 exercise in
interdisciplinary studies, a place where “anything you do is an
educational opportunity—even taking out the garbage,” said
Arnold Roy, who arrived at the school in 1952 and now lives,
teaches and practices architecture there as one of 27 senior
members of the so-called Taliesin Fellowship.
Winter 2001
Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture
For outsiders, the school’s unusual practices can be shocking
For outsiders, the school’s unusual practices can come as
a bit of a shock. When an evaluation team from the North
Central Association of Colleges and Schools visited Taliesin
West in 1997, they were “blown away,” said David O. Justice,
who was a member of the team. “I suppose it’s probably fair
to say we were kind of appalled because there was nothing
approaching what we had assumed to be the necessary
components of a university,” said Justice, vice president for
Lifelong Learning and Suburban Campuses at Chicago’s De
Paul University. “There weren’t classrooms and labs and the
normal array of workstations…What we would associate with
a normal university architectural school just wasn’t there. And
that raised all sorts of alarm bells.”
But after three days of watching the school in action, the
teamwas converted. “We became very sold on it,” said Justice.
In their subsequent report, the team not only recommended
the school’s accreditation be extended for seven years (which
it subsequently was), they lauded it as one model for higher
education, saying, “The Frank LloydWright School of
Architecture offers an important alternative approach to the
education of architects and to higher education in general. It
has the potential to influence and shape both professional and
general education.”
Justice has since joined the board of trustees of the Frank
LloydWright Foundation, the umbrella organization that
oversees the school, an architectural firm, the Fellowship, the
campuses and the intellectual properties. “It’s been wonderful,”
said Justice. “I’ve just learned more and more and gotten
deeper into an understanding of the culture—which in some
ways takes on an even larger life than the school.”
That is by design. Wright believed that life and architecture
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, near Scottsdale, Arizona, houses a school, a
community and a commercial architectural practice.
It would be hard
to overstate the
influence Frank
Lloyd Wright and
his wife still hold
over life at Taliesin.
Photos by Rod Searcey for CrossTalk