Taylor Scott, Managing Editor
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation recently announced the creation of the Taliesin Institute, a new collection of programs that seek to advance the principles of organic architecture, seen as the core of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s work. However, other stalwarts of Wright’s legacy debate the need for such an initiative following the Foundation’s final split in 2020 from the school of architecture previously in residence at Taliesin.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, is a nonprofit organization founded by Wright himself in 1940 to continue his ideas of organic architecture. Organic architecture is Wright’s philosophy promoting harmony between human habitation and the natural world. The Foundation explains, for Wright, a truly organic building develops from within outwards and is thus in harmony with its time, place, and inhabitants. After Wright’s death in 1959, ownership of his Taliesin estate in Spring Green, as well as Taliesin West in Scottsdale passed into the hands of the Foundation.
“As the Taliesin Institute grows, along with our public programming at Taliesin Preservation, the estate will continue to be a laboratory for living.”Carrie Rodamaker, executive director of Taliesin Preservation
According to the Foundation, the new Taliesin Institute will focus on providing education, outreach, and information to architecture and design students, new and established design professionals, and the broader public interested in learning about the history and future of organic architecture principles.
The Foundation said in a statement that it believes those principles are more relevant today than ever before and are evolving to respond to the changing needs of our world — citing climate change and sustainability, cultural and economic development, and new modes of living to help design, build, and live better now and in the future.
According to the Foundation, the Institute will have a particular focus on hands-on work aligned with Wright’s insistence on learning by doing, creating public classes, symposia, and workshops that reflect the evolving nature of Wright’s principles of organic design and their relevance to the way we live now, and in the future.
To lead these programs, the Foundation has brought on Jennifer Gray, Ph.D., a Wright scholar who recently was the Curator of Drawings and Archives at Columbia University’s Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library. Dr. Gray was responsible for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives, containing more than one million elements including Wright’s drawings, writings, and photography.
Dr. Gray is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia and has taught at Cornell University and The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Dr. Gray was also the co-curator of the MoMA exhibition Frank Lloyd Wright: Unpacking the Archive.
The Foundation notes that in addition to her expertise on Wright’s work, Dr. Gray’s research explores how designers, notably Dwight Perkins and Jens Jensen, used architecture, cities, and landscapes to advance social and spatial justice at the turn of the 20th Century. She also is interested in contemporary social practice, curatorial practice, the history of architecture exhibitions and questions of critical heritage.
“Taliesin’s future is brighter than ever. Wright always wanted it to be a place of engagement for architecture and other arts, but it was also a place where business and civic leaders, and thought leaders from many disciplines, came together and exchanged ideas that shaped the future.”Stuart Graff, CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
As the Taliesin Institute fleshes out a strategic plan for the scope of the programming it plans to offer, it’ll be organizing a consortium of leading architecture schools that will eventually send students to study at both Taliesin campuses.
“Taliesin’s future is brighter than ever. Wright always wanted it to be a place of engagement for architecture and other arts, but it was also a place where business and civic leaders, and thought leaders from many disciplines, came together and exchanged ideas that shaped the future,” said Stuart Graff, CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. “With the Taliesin Institute, we’re going back to Wright’s own ideas for how both Taliesin campuses could influence how we build and live.”
In a statement to the publication The Architect’s Newspaper, Graff said that the Institute’s programs won’t seek academic accreditation like a college or university, but that he expects it will offer accredited continuing education programs for professionals.
However, as recently as 2020 the Foundation had a formal relationship with an accredited institution.
That institution now stylizes itself as “The School of Architecture, founded by Frank Lloyd Wright as The Taliesin Fellowship in 1932” — commonly abbreviated as TSOA.
“We too would like for Taliesin to be filled with student activity to be a living, learning site and not just a museum. The School of Architecture… looks forward to a day when our students can return to their former campuses at Taliesin and Taliesin West.”Nicole Hollenbeck, TSOA’s chief financial officer
The School and the Foundation split into two separate entities in 2017 due to accreditation requirements forcing them to maintain separate budgets and governing bodies, with a final split in 2020 coming after uncertainty about the School’s future led the Foundation to decline to renew the School’s lease for use of either the Taliesin or Taliesin West campuses. However, disagreements still linger between the Foundation and the School.
Savannah Kirmis, a senior account executive at the public relations firm representing the Foundation noted along with statements that, “The School of Architecture was not founded by Wright as the Fellowship, Wright was clear throughout his life that he did not want people to have the idea that Taliesin was a school – that was something that came later (1986). The members of the Fellowship created a school long after Wright had died.”
The Taliesin Fellowship, Wright’s apprenticeship program designed to expound his principle of organic architecture and allied arts, continued to evolve to be more formal under the Foundation as licensing requirements for architects changed.
TSOA, for several years called the School of Architecture at Taliesin and previously the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, gaining formal accreditation in 1986, is in its 90th year of continuous operation says Sandra Shane-DuBow, a former trustee of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and a former board member of Taliesin Preservation as well as current Secretary of TSOA’s Board of Governors.
“From the creation of the Taliesin Fellowship in 1932 until 2020, the School was based and operated at the two Taliesins as part of the Taliesin Fellowship,” said Shane-DuBow. “As the inheritor of the ongoing community of the Fellowship, the School is the Fellowship.”
TSOA is an accredited graduate school of architecture, awarding a Master of Architecture degree for students who successfully complete its programs. The School also offers eight week immersion courses.
“The legacy of Taliesin is now gone, so it is now just a museum.”Jack P. Lee, president of the Taliesin Fellows
Last year, TSOA students and faculty returned to Spring Green as part of the School’s Immersion Program, though they were unable to be at Taliesin, instead basing themselves at the Wright-designed Wyoming Valley School and Cultural Arts Center just down the road.
According to Shane-DuBow, the School’s faculty and students will be back in Spring Green this summer at Wyoming Valley School and will continue Wright’s “learning by doing” philosophy as it extends Wright’s principles of organic architecture.
In the meantime, the launch of the Taliesin Institute has sparked conversations about Wright’s legacy, the Fellowship he founded and who owns the mantle to it.
Shane-DuBow said she hadn’t seen much about the Taliesin Institute yet.
“I understand that it will be a collection of programs designed to advance the principles of organic architecture, and that it will be developed over time. I also have not seen any indication that the Institute will be an accredited school of architecture,” said Shane-DuBow. “What the Institute will mean for the future of Taliesin and Wright’s legacy will be shown as it develops.”
Others with a stake in Wright’s legacy were less equivocal.
“There was a great accredited school in place at Taliesin carrying on the legacy and for some reason the Foundation removed it. The school is still alive and well but at a new location,” says Jack P. Lee, president of the Taliesin Fellows, the official alumni organization of TSOA and its predecessors. “The Foundation should now direct its time and funds to the restoration of Taliesin and Taliesin West, as it should be doing and there is a great need to do so.”
“The legacy of Taliesin is now gone, so it is now just a museum,” Lee concluded.
TSOA President Chris Lasch and Dean Stephanie Lin did not respond to requests for comment for this story. However, during a visit to Spring Green as part of their immersion program last summer the TSOA administration expressed a desire to return to Taliesin.
“We too would like for Taliesin to be filled with student activity to be a living, learning site and not just a museum. The School of Architecture founded by Frank Lloyd Wright as the Taliesin fellowship in 1932 looks forward to a day when our students can return to their former campuses at Taliesin and Taliesin West,” shared Nicole Hollenbeck, TSOA’s chief financial officer.
“…we see Taliesin as a resource to the community’s cultural and civic life.”Stuart Graff, CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
When entailing the changes the Taliesin Institute will bring for the Spring Green campus, Graff disagreed with the characterization of Taliesin as a museum.
“The Foundation will be announcing specific plans in the next few months, but for now I hope it suffices to say that Taliesin won’t ever be a house museum,” said Graff. “With the restoration of the Hillside Theatre, which we expect to complete this fall, and the new Institute, we see Taliesin as a resource to the community’s cultural and civic life.”
The organization responsible for the preservation and programming of the Spring Green campus agreed.
“As the Taliesin Institute grows, along with our public programming at Taliesin Preservation, the estate will continue to be a laboratory for living,” said Carrie Rodamaker, executive director of Taliesin Preservation. “We welcome the diversity of thought and the continuation of Taliesin inspiring individuals to think critically about the intersection of the natural, built, and cultural environments.”
As the Taliesin Institute fleshes out their programs, partners with a consortium of architecture schools and scales up its offerings, Graff was asked if the Foundation planned on working with TSOA.
“It will be up to the consortium to set standards for the schools that participate, to ensure the high quality of participation,” says Graff. “If TSOA can meet the standards, they can participate like any other school that meets those standards.”