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A separate though equally difficult challenge is the aging
of the original members of the Fellowship—those who
received personal tutelage fromMr. andMrs. Wright. That
has created concern within the community about how their
passing will affect the school’s ability to fully grasp and live up
to theWrights’ vision. “You don’t have two charismatic leaders
[anymore],” said EffiCasey. “So you have to rediscover what
the basis of your intention is. You have to focus on your idea.”
Still, it would be hard to overstate the influence Frank
LloydWright and his wife hold over life at Taliesin. Despite
their public reputation as being difficult and autocratic, the
couple remains so revered within the community that they
are never referred to as anything other than “Mr. andMrs.
Wright.” (To do so, even in jest, is to risk severe criticism from
members of the Fellowship.)
Students are encouraged to familiarize themselves
withWright’s extensive archives, sometimes even going so
far as to trace his drawings. Many, if not most, have read
Wright’s autobiography. They listen to his recorded talks,
and occasionally read and discuss talks given by Olgivanna
Wright, who oversaw the community’s daily life and spiritual
and moral development. And the students are educated in
buildings and on furnitureWright designed, so they’re literally
surrounded by his architectural philosophy.
“It’s really neat to be able to live in a place like this,” said
SarahMurphy, as she helped a visitor negotiate TaliesinWest’s
complex floor plan, a typical Wrightian maze of hidden doors
and low-ceilinged passageways. “It makes you think about
a lot of things—like how things are put together, where the
windows are placed, how the walls are leaning.”
Yet school officials insist that they are not interested
in turning out Wright clones. Although there is a strong
resurgence of interest inWright’s work, “This is not about
Frank LloydWright revivalism,” saidMark Hammons. “The
clients are attracted to Frank LloydWright,” he admitted.
“But the apprentices are attracted to the opportunity to carry
forward that work—as opposed to being little Frank Lloyd
Wrights.”
Apprentices are encouraged to applyWright’s concept
of organic architecture; that is, to create designs that respect
and mirror their environment the same way that Taliesin
West does. Its desert masonry and low flat roofs complement
rather than dominate the landscape. The school faculty,
and we revamped our
curriculum. A lot of it was in
response to some excellent
recommendations from our
institutional and professional
accrediting bodies in 2005.”
Many of the changes put
in place could be seen as
“mainstreaming,” but Sidy
resists the use of that term.
“There are so many opportunities that are available to us as a result of
our increasing openness,” he said. “I would not call it mainstreaming, but
rather taking the core values of the institution and interpreting them in a
contemporary way. That word, ‘interpretation,’ has become a touchstone
for us.”
This summer, there was an important “benchmark moment” with
regard to accreditation, and the school performed well. “Our ‘on-notice’
status has been removed,” Sidy said. The Frank LloydWright School of
Architecture enjoys full accreditation once again.
The school currently has 19 students, five of whom are women,
which represents a slightly more favorable ratio than in 2001. “We are
nowmoving to a more balanced enrollment,” Sidy said, noting that the
gap betweenmen and women in the architectural field is closing as well.
While the school still has no grades, there now are formal classes.
And the 38 knowledge and ability areas (or “K/As”) that students were
expected to master have been reduced in number to 33, and are now
called “performance criteria.”
And students (the term is now used interchangeably with
“apprentices”) are allowed to take off-campus jobs. “We are now
encouraging our students to develop internships—to work as interns
in the architectural community beyond the walls of Taliesin,” Sidy said,
adding that these changes have been well received.
“We are also embarking on an aggressive building assessment
and conservation program at both campuses,” Sidy said. “The Frank
LloydWright organization expanded its studios, which are really the
classrooms, the drafting studios, and there was a restoration of living
quarters in Arizona, which is peripheral to the school, but important for
the organization.”
Annual tuition, which includes room and board, has grown from
$9,600 in 2001 to $17,000 in 2007. The Frank LloydWright organization,
which continues to derive the majority of its funding from visitors
to Taliesin and TaliesinWest, is also providing funding for a push
to increase the size of the school’s endowment, which is “in the high
$500,000s,” according to Sidy. “At the moment we are in the process
of engaging in a capital campaign which we hope will substantially
enlarge that endowment for student scholarships, faculty fellowships,
and program initiatives,” Sidy said. “We are hoping to celebrate our
endowment’s million dollar mark within the next two to four years.”
—Todd Sallo
Annual tuition, which
includes room and
board, has grown from
$9,600 in 2001 to
$17,000 in 2007.
Taliesin West student apprentices live in desert shelters of various sorts. They say
being exposed to nature makes them better architects.