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As part of the “hands-on” educational approach at the
Wright School, students wield a jackhammer in the
early stages of expanding a computer lab.
Fellowship members and
professionals at Taliesin
Architects (positions that
sometimes overlap) are
expected to mentor the
apprentices in much the
same way, encouraging
them to live up to their
fullest creative and
professional potential.
That’s a welcome
relief, said FabianMantel,
who came to the school
after earning a degree in
art and economics from
the University of Zurich,
where he said there was
too much emphasis on
grades and not enough
on the education itself.
So even though he didn’t
necessarily agree with
the earful of constructive
criticism he received at
his most recent review
committee meeting, Mantel appreciates the constant challenge
to do better. “They want to see progress. They want to get the
best out of you,” he said.
Students say they’re motivated not only by their own
educational goals but by their desire for respect from the rest
of the Fellowship. That is particularly important since neither
the students nor the Fellowship members have many other
social outlets, and students are prohibited from holding off-
campus jobs.
“You really have to do your best, because it affects your
standing in the community,” explained student Jahmai
Ginden, who sometimes puts himself on a 36-hour day—
staying awake for 24 hours, then sleeping for 12—to manage
all his responsibilities.
“The more you know, the more they’ll teach you,” said
Ginden. So although the program is described as self-paced,
what that really means is “as fast as you can go!”
The school only receives about 20 completed applications
annually, but the vast majority of those are from highly
motivated individuals. They would have to be: Things have
changed since the days whenMrs. Wright single-handedly
decided whether to admit someone based only on an
interview.
Today, prospective students have to send a statement of
purpose, a biographical essay, a portfolio of sketches and
architectural drawings, three personal references, a high
school and college transcript (bachelor’s degree candidates
have to complete at least one year of prerequisites at another
college), and a medical report to prove they are healthy
enough to participate in the school’s intensely physical
program. They also have to visit either campus for two
days, during which time they are expected to participate in
whatever activities happen to be going on, and are interviewed
by an admissions committee as well as admissions director
Stefansson. (Foreign students are exempt from the visit, but
must have an interview.)
By the time they finish the process, both the student and
school officials knowwhether it is a good fit. About half
of those who apply, matriculate. And in the past five years,
only three students have left before completing their degree
or predetermined time at the school, said Stefansson. (The
school sometimes allows non-degree students to spend a year
or a term there; it also accepts visiting students from aThai
university for several months each year).
If the measure of a school’s success is its employment rate,
the Frank LloydWright School of Architecture is a resounding
triumph: Virtually 100 percent of its Master’s of Architecture
graduates are employed in the architectural field. (The school’s
Bachelor of Architectural Studies is a pre-professional degree
which cannot lead to licensure.)
But unlike other institutions, the school needs to do more:
It must provide graduates who will join the Fellowship and
the architectural firm, since both are integral to the continued
financial viability of the community and the school. (Proceeds
from the school’s annual tuition of $9,600, which includes
room and board, cover only a small fraction of the cost of
running it.)
Ironically, the same attributes that allow the apprentices to
succeed at the school—a high level of motivation, tremendous
talent and a strong sense of themselves—also lead many
graduates to seek greater
personal and professional
freedom than Taliesin offers.
Frank LloydWright was
constantly renovating and
changing the buildings at
Taliesin and TaliesinWest.
So, too, the community he
founded must continue to
evolve or risk becoming
an historical anachronism.
There are debates within the
community about what the
Taliesin of the future should
look like. But regardless
of their vision for it, the
people connected with the
Fellowship remain dedicated
to its educational, architectural and philosophical mission, and
optimistic that it will survive in some form.
Perhaps that is because Taliesin’s appeal actually is much
simpler than its high-minded and complex philosophy of
holistic living might lead one to believe. Apprentice Tony
Walker, for instance, hopes to remain at the Fellowship
following his graduation in September. Why? SaidWalker: “It’s
just a fun life, doing what you really like to do.”
u
Freelance writer KathyWitkowsky lives inMissoula, Montana.
More than
120,000
architecture
buffs toured
Taliesin West in
1999, and 36,000
more toured the
original Taliesin
in Wisconsin.