My day job (when I am not writing this column, of course) is to run the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. Recently, we announced that we were going to change the name of the School and its identity. As is the case with most such developments, the new look caused some eyebrows to be raised. In this case, our change raised the question of how you give image and form to a school of architecture on the one hand and, on the other hand, how you work with and within the legacy of America’s greatest architect.
Before we go on, though, a little background might be in order. In 1932, Frank Lloyd Wright closed his office and founded an apprenticeship program, the Fellowship, at his home, Taliesin, in Spring Green, Wis. The apprentices learned not only about designing buildings from Wright, but also (because Wright believed that architects were more than drafting drones) by working the farm and creating a communal life that, in addition to their household chores, included performances and parties that occurred with great regularity. In 1937, Wright established a winter home in Scottsdale, Ariz.—Taliesin West—and the apprentices’ duties from that point on included building and expanding that new part-time home.
After Wright died, the apprenticeship developed into two separate entities: an architecture office (Taliesin Associated Architects), which closed in 2003, and an accredited school of architecture, which came to be known as the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, even though that was not a name the architect himself wanted to use. Both the office and the School existed under the umbrella of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which is the official heir to all of both Wright’s and his last wife Ogilvanna’s property, both physically and intellectually.
A few years ago, it became apparent that the School would have to become an independent entity if it wanted to maintain its academic freedom and accreditation as an institution of higher learning. After raising enough money to help us through that transition and making other changes, we are now set to become such an organization on Aug. 1 of this year.
Obviously, a new institution deserves a new identity, but one that does make it clear that it is still the continuation of a legacy that is now 85 years old. Another issue is that the Foundation owns the Wright name and all of the trademarks associated with it. According to U.S. copyright law, the Foundation has to be able to demonstrate, if it is ever challenged, that it has maintained adequate control over those rights. In the case of the School, that means it would have to be able to show that it periodically reviews the work students, faculty, and staff were producing under the Wright name and trademarks to ensure that it meets the Foundation’s standards for such use—as they do for the licensees who produce the various architectural elements, coffee mugs, and textiles that also use those trademarks. That, in turn, would mean that the Foundation would have an undue influence over our work, thus impinging on our academic freedom and endangering our accreditation.
The solution we finally came up with was to realize that Taliesin and Taliesin West is where we’re at, both literally and figuratively. Using Taliesin instead of “Wright” falls outside of the copyright law. So we can say we are located at Taliesin and we are a school of architecture there—hence our new name, the School of Architecture at Taliesin.
Then the question became how to present that new name. To that end, we asked Michael Bierut, a partner at design firm Pentagram and formerly a board member for the Wright Foundation—and thus somebody who knows the place intimately—to help us to do that part. Bierut gave us various suggestions, and the one we liked best represents the fact that we are changing and will continue to change. The basic “wordmark,” or manner in which the name appears, is very simple but its application changes continually. In its applications, it becomes spatial to remind us that we are all about space, and it is live because our motto is “live architecture” (our students live, work, eat, and perform at Taliesin and Taliesin West in an immersive experience). It also breaks the edges of pages, cards, and websites in the manner that Wright himself sought to break the box. Finally, the logo’s animation is derived from abstractions of some of Wright’s most well-known buildings.
To make the connection to our history explicit, the School will use the tagline “Continuing the apprenticeship Frank Lloyd Wright founded in 1932,” and will also stay true to his notions of organic architecture though now interpreted towards learning how to make the designed environment more sustainable, open, and beautiful. At Taliesin, we aim to use our embedded knowledge and our place to be the best experimental architecture school in the country.
Our new graphics do not use any of the forms Wright used to communicate his office or buildings over his more than 70 years in practice. But I always tell the students to ask not what Wright did (although we do study that in great detail as well), but what he would do today—and then to ask themselves what they are going to do tomorrow.
Look for the School’s new website. Frank Lloyd Wright would have been 150 years old next month and—along with the Foundation and all of the other Wright organizations and sites—we will celebrate it with great fanfare. (The Museum of Modern Art is mounting a large exhibition as well.) I hope that in 15 years, we will be celebrating the School’s centennial, as we continue this important apprenticeship program with new vigor and old discipline.