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School of Architecture at Taliesin Looks to Future After Year of Independence

Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation | Sep 5, 2018

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and School of Architecture at Taliesin President Aaron Betsky discuss the School’s past, and exciting future, as the two organizations mark one year of officially being separate organizations.

In August of 2017, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the School of Architecture at Taliesin officially separated and the School pursued its own accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission as an institution of higher learning. The Foundation maintains ownership of Taliesin in Wisconsin and Taliesin West in Arizona, and the School remains based at these campuses. Both organizations are dedicated to using these properties as examples and teaching tools of how to build a more beautiful world.

Now, a year later, the School’s President Aaron Betsky reflects on what the year of being an independent entity has meant for the School, and what the future holds.

How has the past year gone, being an independent entity?

AB: We’ve been preparing for this for quite some time. We really are an 82-year-old startup that on the one hand carries forward the traditions of the program founded by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1932, but on the other hand, is very keen to figuring out how to use those traditions to become the best experimental architecture school in the country. That means that we have refocused our curriculum and all of our activities to fulfill our own mission and to be a contributor to the overall Frank Lloyd Wright ecosystem as a graduate program of architecture. That’s meant, as I said, a lot of work on the curriculum. It also meant a lot of work just on setting up our own systems and our own organization.

You recently began the summer 2018 semester at Taliesin in Wisconsin. How would you describe the current status of the School?

AB: So the School, because it was in mortal peril, shrank to a very small size, and we had to build up from there. Not only that, but we had to change our name and it turned out that those two things made it much more of a challenge for us to recruit new students than we thought. We had hoped to be larger than we are now, but we’re at around 20 students. The good news is that we now have a majority female population, which we think is the first time in the history of the program. We’re looking forward to growing up to about 60 people, which is the ideal size of the program, both in terms of the critical mass of the problem and in terms of being able to fully utilize these incredible campuses, as well as the human resources, the people that are central to the School, the faculty and the staff. We’re very busy recruiting through and through every other means we can to try to get a robust and diverse student body, and that’s really our main focus.

What are you looking forward to in this upcoming year?

AB: We’ve been doing all kinds of exciting things. A lot of that involves our local communities, both in Wisconsin and in Arizona.

We’ve had a relationship with the towns of Globe and Miami in Arizona where we’ve been doing a lot of community design activities. Some of that work is now coming to fruition, including a pollinated garden that’s almost finished. One of our students is further developing elements of the design and it is being built by students at the community college up there. Then, similarly in Wisconsin, our immersion students designed a band shell for Mazomanie which is going under construction in October, when the busy season is over. We also did installations at various shopping malls around Tucson and Phoenix in Arizona that Chris Lasch directed. In a few weeks, the whole school is getting on a plane at the invitation of the Bartlesville Arts Center in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, to design a public space that will connect Price Tower and Frank Lloyd Wright’s design to the community of Bartlesville. That’s going to be a really fun event.

Those are just a few things that we’re looking forward to. We also have our lecture series, which is bringing a very exciting roster of lecturers, at both Taliesin and Taliesin West, as in previous years.

Although separate, how do the School and Foundation operate as partners?

AB: We are located at Taliesin and Taliesin West, which are owned by the Foundation. While Taliesin is in our name, I think it also embodies who we are and what we are. On a very immediate level it means that when I’m working with students or with any of us, our faculty is working with students, you can point to a clear story. You can point to the way a plane continues. You can point to a corner window. You can have students look at the way a truss is put together in Taliesin and have them understand some of the basic elements of architecture. In all of these ways Taliesin and Taliesin West are teaching tools, which is what Stuart believes they should be.

Our missions are also very aligned. The Foundation’s mission is preserving Taliesin and Taliesin West for future generations, and inspiring society through an understanding and experience of Frank Lloyd Wright’s ideas, architecture, and design. That very much aligns with our goals of want to learn how to make a world that is more sustainable, more open, accessible to all and more beautiful, while using Taliesin West and Taliesin West as a way to learn how to do that.

We also try to collaborate with the Foundation wherever we can, for lecturers, or on events. That’s something that we look forward to doing a lot more of in the future.

Aaron Betsky is the president of the School of Architecture at Taliesin. 

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