Following the news that Frank Lloyd Wright's School of Architecture at Taliesin will close this year, first-year student Alex Martinec reflects on how it marks not just the end of a physical institution, but the architect's way of thinking.
On 28 January, we were called to an all-school meeting in the Atrium on the grounds of Taliesin West, our campus, with dean Aaron Betsky. He didn't initially tell us why. This was following both a formal evening, which is a Wright established tradition, on 25 January, and a School of Architecture at Taliesin board of governors meeting that same morning.
With students and faculty present, we heard Aaron Betsky announce that the school is closing following the end of this semester, and arrangements will be made for students to transfer into Arizona State University to complete their degree if desired. The upperclassmen will finish up their degrees at the end of this semester and will be the last architects trained at the Taliesin School of Architecture.
I am a first-year student just beginning a form of learning that is unique in itself
The school board seems to be between a rock and a hard place, as they are very passionate about this type of learning. They even explored making a new "Taliesin School of Architecture" at another site. But through this process, the school board found it beyond their means to fulfill this option.
The cause of our closure is due to a financial condition that we are unable to sustain, basically our rent is too high. The school is separate from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, the entity that owns and controls both of our "campus" sites at Taliesin and Taliesin West.
I am a first-year student just beginning to form a strong bond with my fellow classmates, engaging in a form of learning that is unique in itself. The times here are uncertain for many of us as we now find ourselves contemplating where to go; maybe to another school, maybe to another job, or maybe to our parents' basement.
What is certain is it will not be here, not learning in the ways established by Frank Lloyd Wright and his apprentices, not exploring some uncertain place in the study of architecture.
The greatness of this place exists not in the physical embodiment of the buildings themselves, but in the profound ideas that created them
The problem to me seems to be one of place, initially for us. But the problem is much greater than this singular event, which has not fully revealed itself. To me, and maybe others, the greatness of this place exists not in the physical embodiment of the buildings themselves, but in the profound ideas that created them.
These ideas have the power to resound through time, influencing many people of all ages, all over the world. The buildings themselves will eventually fade, deteriorate, and become lost to time, but the idea remains.
More simply put is the question, is it a greater offense to destroy all of the buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright, or all of the ideas that he established? In my view, the idea is the object of value. The school is the last remaining purveyor of that idea, and the vehicle that pursues it. Signifying the closing of the School of Architecture at Taliesin also signifies the closing of ideals of learning established by Wright.
I imagine the way Taliesin will look in our absence, the studios vacant of students once in desk crits or working on a Rhino model, pursuing the conceptual future of architecture. These places will be empty and silent, properly curated with period-correct artefacts, stuffed manikins made to look like the apprentices who studied under Wright. But not us, we will not be here.
Without the continuation of this tradition, the work of Wright, at its principle and ideal level, will cease to exist
Recently, my fellow students and I tried to determine what commonly connects us all as students at Taliesin. I believe it is the greatness of the statement that Wright made that reached us all in this generation. We were drawn to the power of his idea and way of learning.
In asking all of the other current students, they were more directly drawn here by a similar figure that stands for this idea, Aaron Betsky. These people and ideas still exist here and are self-sustaining. But without the continuation of this tradition, through these people and the pursuit of architecture, the work of Wright, at its principle and ideal level, will cease to exist.
But is this the way it should be? At the time of his passing Wright was concerned with this now-reality; the focus on the physical and not the core ideal. This concern was to the degree that Wright contemplated the destruction of Taliesin to prevent it from becoming a museum, stuck in time. The focus being on the physical and not the nature of the place, one that is of constant change, experimentation, and a far reach into the conceptual future.
Maybe it is time that Taliesin changes again, and in true experimental fashion, we move from this place that has become more museum than laboratory. We fully embody the nature of this place and start somewhere else. This may be the only way to preserve and continue the great ideas that have inspired many of us to be where we are today. If there is anyone with great means and fortitude that can fully envision this reality, we have a just cause and a great passion to continue now and for the generations to come. But the time is now, otherwise this is the end of Frank Lloyd Wright's way of learning architecture.
Statement from the author: these are my personal views as I experienced them as a human being, not a student of The School of Architecture at Taliesin, or any other student, or in any association with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
Photograph is courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.