Jones audio

What background do you bring to the position of campus planner for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation?

  • Robert Jones
Age: 52 
Position: Vice president of campus planning, restoration, and development 
Organization: Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation 
FYI: Before joining the foundation, Jones was assistant dean for building operations and facilities at Mies van der Rohe's IIT campus.

    Credit: Matt Greenslade

    Robert Jones
    Age: 52
    Position: Vice president of campus planning, restoration, and development
    Organization: Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
    FYI: Before joining the foundation, Jones was assistant dean for building operations and facilities at Mies van der Rohe's IIT campus.
I have been an owner's architect for 28 years. I was deputy chief architect at the Chicago Park District, director of design and construction for the Art Institute of Chicago, and assistant dean for buildings and operations in the College of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology.

What are the differences between the two campuses, Taliesin East and Taliesin West?

They are two different sites, two different contexts. Taliesin East is a rolling countryside in Wisconsin of 800 acres. It's a mix of agriculture and prairie landscape. Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, Ariz., is 490 acres of pristine Sonoran desert. The contrasts are quite stark and startling.

What problems are you dealing with?

Deferred maintenance is not a glamorous activity. Both campuses were living laboratories built by Mr. Wright and the apprentices and fellows. I believe there is only one building—the Hillside School—that was constructed by a contractor. Even though the documents and drawings indicate what we believe is behind a ceiling or a wall or below ground, it is always a revelation when our staff and our crew open up something.

Do the students still work on the grounds and buildings?

They certainly do. The immediacy of doing something real is gratifying. It has always been a hands-on curriculum. Mr. Wright, with his apprentices and fellows, practiced design/build. Understanding the materials that you are designing for and with is exciting.

Are you teaching at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture?

Not at the moment, although I hope to. The dean, Victor Sidy, and I have been talking about mobilizing a group of students to document aspects of the buildings where we can apply best practices. These were living laboratories, and Mr. Wright would experiment with new materials. Some design details exceed the technology of the day. We are trying to convert our documents into BIM. To know what has been touched by the hand and the direction of Mr. Wright are things that we need to understand.

Some of these sound like very contemporary issues …

I am not a Wright scholar, but I have been fascinated by how Mr. Wright produced his architecture. I look at his response to a site condition using indigenous materials, using landscape, natural light, and ventilation. I believe that now, 75 years later, we are beginning to appreciate another dimension to Mr. Wright's work. His process appears to be at the core of sustainable discussions in architecture today.

What's the most surprising thing you have learned from Wright, given your proximity to his work?

It is amazing to sit and work in one of his buildings by yourself and watch the change of light, but I was really struck with the campus grounds. The 800 acres in Wisconsin is a blend of agriculture, naturalistic landscapes, and Prairie architecture. Mr. Wright did not connect into the electrical grid until the 1940s. They raised the crops that they lived on. They moved what they had canned with them on their annual migration to Taliesin West. It really was a sustainable community. The agricultural elements had been put aside since 1959, when Mr. Wright passed away. The foundation has leased land to a farmer, and we are in the process of converting several hundred acres of cropland into organic farms.

How available are the facilities to visitors?

Taliesin West is available year-round; 110,000 people go through. Taliesin East is open from May to the first of November, and we have 30,000 visitors. The foundation is undergoing a transformation to become more progressive and outward focused as an education and cultural institution. We are at a transitional point to develop and restore and activate these sites. They are areas to educate [people] about Mr. Wright's impact beyond stylistic issues.