Between a nail-biter of a preservation battle and the relocation of a massive cache of documents, models, photographs, and drawings to New York City, it’s been an uphill struggle maintaining the legacy of legendary architect/homewrecker/really impressive pen pal Frank Lloyd Wright in Arizona over the past couple years.
Now, the esteemed Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, located on the grounds of Wright’s Scottsdale snowbird retreat/studio, Taliesin West, faces some serious growing pains of its own as the 80-year-old school risks losing professional accreditation in the face of changing education standards.
How will the deficient-plagued school evolve and modernize to meet new accreditation criteria set forth by the Higher Learning Commission while also staying true to the founding mission of Wright? How will the institution maintain the right to issue architecture degrees without, in the words of the former president of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation board Vernon Swaback, “degenerating into nothing but one more tourist attraction?”
As possible solutions are mulled over with the accreditation commission and the aid of a consultant, school leaders and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, also headquartered at Taliesin West, have decided to suspend new student enrollments for the fall. One possible idea is to restructure the school so that it offers a Masters of Architecture degree in combination with a residential research program for architectural professionals, reports Sonja Haller for the Arizona Republic.
Still, former students worry that any major type of deviance from the existing structure of the school, particularly a spin-off school operating independently from the Frank Lloyd Foundation, could tamper with the institution’s founding ideals. Swaback is optimistic, however, that the school can emerge from restructuring stronger than ever: “The potential remains for it to become a global gathering place, for the best and the brightest to give their best under the spell and spirit of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West.”
This sentiment is echoed by Maura Grogan, chair of the Frank Lloyd School of Architecture board of governors. She tells the Arizona Republic:
What we would do differently is really have the residential factor of living on-site, people from age 20 to age 90, all passionate about architecture and a lot of the principles that Wright espoused.
Everyone is learning from each other. We think we can do it in a way that has a different impact and an important impact in changing the conversation around architecture and how architects should be."
The conversation around the potential restructuring of the highly selective school, which also maintains a satellite campus at Wright's summer home/studio, Taliesin, in Green Spring, Wis., was spurred by the Higher Learning Commission’s new accreditation criteria that requires schools to have autonomous, independent governing boards. While the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture possesses a school advisory board, it is governed — and financially supported — by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
Remarks Grogan: “That’s one of the real important aspects of the foundation. They have supported the school and have continued to support the school, and it’s very expensive to run a school, in particular a small program that we want to continue to run as small and very exclusive.”
The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture traces its roots back to Wrght’s residential apprenticeship program which the iconic architect began offering at his Wisconsin homebase in 1932. The Taliesin Fellowship program later morphed into the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, an institution that received its first academic accreditation in 1987. Wright himself did not have an architecture degree and “wasn’t a fan of formal education,” says his 87-year-old grandson, California-based Eric Wright.
Eric Wright, who opposes the school separating from its parent foundation, says: “You want to train students to become architects. If they come in afterward and have their degree, they might not have been exposed to the practicing of organic architecture. It would be a secondary thing and not as important.”
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation board of trustees will meet at the end of this month to further discuss and consider potential changes to the structuring of the school.
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