Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin Architecture School Is Shutting Down

Taliesin West
Taliesin West Wikimedia user Lar, CC 3.0
click to enlarge Taliesin West - WIKIMEDIA USER LAR, CC 3.0
Taliesin West
Wikimedia user Lar, CC 3.0
The School of Architecture at Taliesin, the world-renown architecture program established 88 years ago by Frank Lloyd Wright, announced operations would cease at the end of this semester.

The school could not agree with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation to keep the graduate program running, according to a news release.

"Our innovative school and its mission were integral to Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision for connecting architecture to our natural world," said Dan Schweikert, Chairperson of the Board of Governors for the School of Architecture at Taliesin. "Wright’s legacy was not just building. It was a school to promulgate the lessons for all future generations."

Schweikert added: "The closure of the school is very emotional for our students, our faculty and staff and all of us who worked so hard for this one-of-a-kind institution and its important role in Frank Lloyd Wright's legacy. We did everything possible to fight for its survival but due to other forces, it was not meant to be."

In a statement, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation said that the school did not have a "sustainable business model that would allow it to maintain its operation as an accredited program."  The release included a quote from foundation CEO and president Stuart Graff claiming the Foundation attempted to work out a deal with the school to allow second- and third-year students to finish their studies.

"[W]e are disappointed that it was not approved by the full SoAT Board. We continue to stand ready to assist in making sure that this change occurs in the best interests of the students," Graff said.

Students of the school spent summers at Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin and winters at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, which also serves as one of the premier tourist destinations in the Valley.

About 30 students are currently enrolled in the program, which sought to carry on Wright's legacy of teaching "organic architecture" through an immersive program. The school is currently working out an agreement with the Arizona State University School of Architecture so students can complete their degrees.

During his career, Wright and his wife Olgivanna Lloyd Wright invited apprentices to live with and study under them at both Taliesin locations.

John Sather, a Valley-based architect who studied at the school in the late '70s and early '80s, called the loss of the program "devastating." In a phone call with Phoenix New Times, Sather accused the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation of caring more about commercializing the late architect's legacy, rather than training "real architects."

"Now this school will die and those who run the foundation will continue to make it a Frank Lloyd Wright theme park," said Sather, whose business partner, Vern Swaback, also studied at the school. ""It's devastating to those of us who were students there that believed in the alternative method of education. It's more importantly devastating to the future of architecture because of the innovative teaching experience."

The partnership between the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the School of Architecture at Taliesin has been slowly coming apart for years. Formerly known as the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, the program used to be part of the foundation, which manages both Taliesins.

But in 2012, as Architect Magazine reported, the commission that accredits the School of Architecture announced that "accredited institutions must be separately incorporated from sponsoring organizations." In 2017, the school officially separated from the foundation and changed its name to the School of Architecture at Taliesin.

Update, 3:46 p.m: This story was updated with comment from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and John Sather.

Editor's note: We referred to Vern Swaback's first name as John in a previous version of this story. We deeply regret the error.
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Steven Hsieh was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from August 2018 to April 2020.
Contact: Steven Hsieh