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to the dean. “There is very little parallel in American or even
European education.”
Dead now for more than 40 years, Frank LloydWright is
more popular today than ever. More than 120,000 architecture
buffs toured TaliesinWest in 1999, and 36,000 more toured
the original Taliesin inWisconsin. That same year, the
licensing fees for Frank LloydWright designs and the use of
his name, image and archival materials reaped more than
a million dollars for the Foundation. But Wright’s beloved
school and Fellowship—the place where he integrated all his
philosophies—remain relatively unknown.
“Frank LloydWright is not recognized as an educator—or
at least not as an educational innovator,” acknowledged Ari
Georges, the school’s curriculum director. “His legacy in
education is something we have yet to discover.”
For 26-year-old master’s degree student FabianMantel,
that legacy meant a chance to help design and oversee the
expansion of the computer lab. “At the beginning, all kinds of
exotic pictures popped into our minds about what the studio
could look like,” saidMantel, as he took off his dust mask
and surveyed his colleagues’ progress on the roof. But then
he and his co-designer realized that they had to respect the
architecture of the entire campus—and that meant the new
design had to tie in with the old one, he said.
“You want to respect the past, but you don’t want to copy
it,” Mantel explained. “That’s really the challenge.”
And it’s the same dilemma facing the school these days:
how to retain the ideals and philosophies on which it was
founded, while also answering to a host of changing cultural,
professional and financial demands so that the institution can
remain viable.
For most of its existence, the school did not give degrees.
Apprentices stayed as long as they chose, sometimes
remaining permanently as members of the Fellowship. But
as time went on, more and more states began to require a
professional degree approved by the National Architectural
Accrediting Board (NAAB) before they would allow architects
to obtain a license. So in the mid-1980s, Mrs. Wright
decreed that the school should begin the accrediting process.
The school has since earned North Central Association
accreditation for both its bachelor’s and master’s degree
programs and NAAB accreditation for its master’s degree.
Accreditation has helped legitimize the school, and
has forced it to articulate measurable goals and evaluation
processes for its students. But some members of the
Fellowship lament a downside as well. Just as the suburban
sprawl of Scottsdale has begun to encroach upon the organic
architecture of TaliesinWest, so the pragmatism of modern-
day students has washed up against the idealism of the Taliesin
“The love for work as process is not as strong as it used
to be,” said EffiCasey, a longtime senior member of the
Fellowship and the school’s director of assessment and music.
“People want things fast, and because of the demands of the
profession, which demands an accredited degree, the focus
is very much on the degree itself. And so our challenge is to
really make learning by doing the main focus,” said Casey,
who was instrumental in the accrediting process.
There are still no classes, credits or grades at the school.
But in order to satisfy accrediting organizations, the school has
developed a list of 38 skills and concepts, plus two additional
ones for undergraduates, that students are expected to master.
These so-called Knowledge and Abilities, or “K/As,” range
from the practical (things like drafting and rendering, civil
engineering systems, construction documents, and cost
estimating) to the abstract (ethics, creative spirit, and self-
Twice a year (three times the first year), each student
meets with his or her review committee. Together they review
the student’s portfolio, a collection of drawings, projects and
written reflections that provides a record of the student’s
progression. The portfolio forms the basis for ranking the
student on each of the K/As.
How apprentices achieve mastery of the K/As is up to
them and their advisors, who guide them through what
becomes a customized education. The school has developed
a complex learning model that illustrates how the curriculum
ties together, but even people at the school realize that it’s
tough to appreciate or even understand it at first blush. “Our
program comes across at the early stages as totally chaotic,”
admitted Pamela Stefansson, school registrar and director of
admissions. “And that’s not the way it is.”
Students can set up tutorials or independent studies with
faculty, Fellowship members or firm architects. They can
attend optional Group Learning Opportunities—GLOs, in the
school’s vernacular—which can range from a one-time lecture
to twice-weekly meetings over the course of several months
and are the school’s answer to classes. Like the K/As, GLOs
sometimes are directly related to architecture, but often the
relationship is murkier—a recent GLO, for instance, featured
a modern dancer performing
and discussing an upcoming
site-specific piece she was
tailoring to TaliesinWest.
Often the learning
opportunities are more
spontaneous. After a recent
performance at TaliesinWest
by a jazz pianist, Dean Arthur
Dyson and a group of students
met with the musician to
discuss the elements of jazz—
discord, resolution, etc.—then
discussed how those same
elements function not only
in architecture, but in dance,
in cinema, in theater, even in
“In essence, all of the arts
are fundamentally related,
and the basic elements of
composition are common to all
of the arts,” explained Dyson,
a former apprentice who splits his time between his duties at
Taliesin and at his own architectural firm in Fresno, California.
“So when the apprentices can see what they are in another
discipline from another perspective, it’s easier to apply it to
their own art.”
Swiss graduate student Fabian Mantel came to
the Wright School because it stresses holistic