150 Years After Frank Lloyd Wright's Birth, Taliesin West Is Still Evolving — Here's How

Wright lived in Taliesin West, his winter home and architectural school, from 1937 until he died at the age of 91. June 8, 2017, will mark the 150th anniversary of his birthday.
Wright lived in Taliesin West, his winter home and architectural school, from 1937 until he died at the age of 91. June 8, 2017, will mark the 150th anniversary of his birthday.
Andrew Pielage/Courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

This summer marks the 150th anniversary of seminal midcentury architect Frank Lloyd Wright's birth. And as June 8 approaches, Wright's Arizona home Taliesin West and its school of architecture are evolving.

The changes started last February with the hire of Stuart Graff as Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation president and CEO. Since then, the former Chicago lawyer and Newell Rubbermaid and Valspar executive has been rolling out a new vision for the Scottsdale-based nonprofit, starting with the transformation of Taliesin West from a house museum to a community partner and cultural destination.

"We're trying to get more in depth into Wright's ideas and intellectual legacy," Graff says. "We see our mission here as trying to do what Frank Lloyd Wright did his whole career, which is change the way we build and change the way we live."

In addition to its tours, the foundation has added lecture and classes on sustainability, architecture, and art, a new summer science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) education program for K-12 students, and musical and live theater for the first time in four decades.

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Tucked under a southern foothill near McDowell Mountain Regional Park, Taliesin West was Wright's winter home from 1937 until his death in 1959. The 495-acre property is Scottsdale's only National Historic Landmark. It was named after its Spring Green, Wisconsin, counterpart, Taliesin, which was Wright's summer home.

Taliesin West is also home to Wright's three-year graduate architectural school. Its students live on the property in the winter and migrate to Taliesin in the summer, a routine since Wright’s time. Paolo Soleri, Shao Fang Sheng, and Edgar Tafel are among its many noted graduates.

Stuart Graff was hired as the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation president and CEO early last year. The Chicago native is passionate about 20th-century architecture and Wright’s organic, accessible, and sustainable architecture.EXPAND
Stuart Graff was hired as the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation president and CEO early last year. The Chicago native is passionate about 20th-century architecture and Wright’s organic, accessible, and sustainable architecture.
Andrew Pielage/Courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Graff, alongside Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture Dean Aaron Betsky, also resolved the school's accreditation problem. In 2004, the foundation's board of trustees decided against separating the school from the foundation, risking accreditation loss due to new Higher Learning Commission accreditation standards implemented in 2012.

Betsky and Graff worked together to create a plan that would allow the school to operate independently of the foundation and retain its accreditation. In conjunction with the changes, new branding was launched this week with fresh visuals and a new name that circles back to the school's Frank Lloyd Wright Taliesin Fellowship origins: the School of Architecture at Taliesin. Financial, legal, and other administrative changes will be completed in August.

“Adopting this new name, the School of Architecture at Taliesin, helps us to secure our identity as an experimental, forward-looking architecture program that is deeply rooted in the Taliesin Fellowship,” Betsky says. “The process in which we developed our new relationship with the Foundation and our accreditors has been an opportunity to closely examine who we are as a school and how to best position ourselves to advance our mission and create quality educational experiences for our students.”

During the weekend of April 22, First Solar former vice president for global public affairs Maja Wessels was named the board's new leader. The board also added licensed architect and Wright scholar Michael Desmond, former manufacturer and marketer Bob Skerker, and architectural lighting designer Christopher Thompson. Graff says the selections are intentionally diverse.

“Our newest trustees complement the existing roster with a diverse set of skills," he says. "Each brings talent and an energy that is supportive of the Foundation’s forward-looking mission."

Taliesin West will also participate in a worldwide, yearlong celebration during 2017. On June 8, what would've been Wright's 150th birthday, Taliesin West and six other Wright properties throughout the country, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, will offer tours for $1.50. It's among the foundation's efforts to highlight the continuing impact of its founder, Graff says.

“We believe that Wright is more relevant today than he was even in his own lifetime," Graff adds.

Taliesin West anniversary tour details are listed on its website.


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