Frank Lloyd Wright’s school will survive — but not at Taliesin

Arcosanti building complex in the desert of Arizona
The Arcosanti campus, in the Arizona high desert an hour from Scottsdale, will be the new home for a renamed Frank Lloyd Wright architecture school. (Jessica Jameson, courtesy The Cosanti Foundation)

Declared dead after 88 years in January, Frank Lloyd Wright’s School of Architecture at Taliesin will continue after all — although at a new home and under a new name. Organizers intend to continue splitting the school year between Arizona and Wisconsin.

While the school reversed its January decision to close at the beginning of March, it will still vacate both Taliesin campuses  in Scottsdale, Ariz. and Spring Green, Wis. — and can no longer use the Frank Lloyd Wright or Taliesin name..

Arcosanti building complex in the desert of Arizona
The Arcosanti campus (Jessica Jameson, courtesy The Cosanti Foundation)

The school is joining with the Cosanti Foundation and its Arcosanti, an intentional community and urban laboratory founded in 1970 by the late Paolo Soleri, a former apprentice to Wright.  The campus is located in Mayer, Ariz., 65 miles from Wright’s Taliesin West campus, in Scottsdale. 

Most of the school’s faculty and staff will stay on. Summer classes are already moving to Arcosanti. Alexandra Moquay, who previously served as the school’s director of development, visited students yesterday.  

“They have said it is relaxing to be at a location where they do not feel they will be kicked out at any moment,” she says. “The most important thing to them is that the program still continues, regarding organic architecture, experimentation” and related activities.

The Arcosanti campus, in the Arizona high desert an hour from Scottsdale, will be the new home for a renamed Frank Lloyd Wright architecture school. (Jessica Jameson, courtesy The Cosanti Foundation)
The Arcosanti campus (Jessica Jameson, courtesy The Cosanti Foundation)

Students previously spent summer months at Wright’s Hillside Home School, adjacent to his Taliesin estate near Spring Green. Taliesin was named a United Nations World Heritage site last fall. The school’s other campus, Taliesin West at Scottsdale, Ariz., is also home to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which in recent years became increasingly hostile toward its partner organization.

On Jan. 28 the Foundation abruptly announced that the school would close at the end of the spring semester. The decision set off a firestorm of controversy reaching well beyond architectural circles.  The Forbes “headline was, “Frank Lloyd Wright Turns In His Grave As The Architecture School He Founded Closes After 88 Years.”

Alumni and donors joined in a rescue effort, but that stalled out. “The Foundation would not change their decision and made it very clear they had no desire to continue the school at Taliesin West or Taliesin [in Wisconsin],” says Moquay. “I still have no idea why they see the school as such a nuisance.”

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation has long claimed that the school has been a drain on it resources, but tax records do not bear that out.

Both the school and Foundation end their fiscal years July 31. The Foundation’s most recent publicly available return, filed Nov. 18, 2019, shows it with $16 million in net assets — a $911,000 improvement over the year before.  Revenue less expenses was $850,812. 

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Meanwhile, the school’s most recently publicly available return, filed Jan. 31, 2019, shows it with $2.6 million in net assets. Revenue less expenses were $1.65 million.

Though it will continue, the school may no longer use the names of Frank Lloyd Wright or Taliesin. Organizers hope that Arcosanti might be allowed to rent portions of Taliesin and Taliesin West for alumni gatherings or other special events. But that’s in the future.

“The school is not coming back to Wisconsin this summer,” says Victor Sidy, a former dean of the school and new Arcosanti board member. “That is something that’s really sad. It’s the first time in living memory that that’s happened.”

There’s a strong desire for the renamed school to somehow return to the Spring Green area, according to Sidy. “It’s in the DNA of the program,” he says. “The school and the southwest Wisconsin community are deeply intertwined.”

If not at Taliesin, “There are other opportunities – there are places – that we would love to use with energy and activity,” he says. “Maybe your readers would be able to recommend something.”

Negotiations were leaked to The Architect’s Newspaper, which reported on them Monday. Discussion with Arcosanti began only recently. “Our first meeting was with our full safety regalia – the masks and the gloves at 20 feet apart,” says Sidy, laughing. In hindsight, the alliance seems a perfect match. 

Arcosanti building complex in the desert of Arizona
The Arcosanti campus, in the Arizona high desert an hour from Scottsdale (Jessica Jameson, courtesy of The Cosanti Foundation)

“They’re probably the next best thing to Taliesin in terms of the rich history of experimentation,” he says. “Arcosanti has a vast campus that totals a thousand acres more land than both of the Taliesins combined. It’s a beautiful place. It’s also a place with a rich source of history and a lot of raw materials. But it’s not Wisconsin.”

There are no immediate plans for educational use of the Spring Green and Scottsdale facilities.  According to a statement released yesterday by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, “While we are currently working on developing new programs and partnerships for education on the Taliesin campuses, there will be no in-person education activities at Taliesin or Taliesin West this summer due to the COVID crisis.”