Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, Arizona
Melissa Mahoney Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, Arizona

In addition to all of our other coverage of Frank Lloyd Wright (the houses, preservation, museum exhibitions, and more), we also keep our finger on the pulse of one of Wright's most important legacies ... his school. A little history from the current dean, ARCHITECT contributor Aaron Betsky: "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."

In 2012, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) changed the rules of their accreditation process, "stating that accredited institutions must be separately incorporated from sponsoring organizations." This put the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, with campuses at Taliesin West Scottsdale, Ariz., and Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisc., in a predicament because it was legally part of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which runs and manages the two Taliesins. Without the certification from the HLC, the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) would stop accrediting the school's architecture programs.

A maintenance worker removes deteriorated sealant from the acrylic panels that top the controversial canvas roofs over the historc core of Taliesin West, to 10-acre compound designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Mark Peterman A maintenance worker removes deteriorated sealant from the acrylic panels that top the controversial canvas roofs over the historc core of Taliesin West, to 10-acre compound designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

With the danger of facing its loss of accreditation and having to consider the future of one of its founder's most valued legacies, the Foundation and the School needed to figure out their next steps. While this was going on, the Foundation was in the midst of a desperately needed restoration of the Taliesin West campus (with a master plan from Chicago-based Harboe Architects). We sent author Logan Ward to Scottsdale to meet with the "remaining Legacy Fellows, the last living Frank Lloyd Wright apprentices, six of whom reside year-round at Taliesin West," who had been Taliesin West's stewards and protectors, maintaining the campus as well as Wright's successor firm (until it folded in 2013) to the standards of what they believed the master architect would have wanted. As Gunny Harboe told Ward: "Taliesin West isn’t your typical house museum. It’s a living, breathing site.” Read Logan Ward's full story here.

At the end of 2014, the Foundation and School came to a decision. They decided to follow the HLC and NAAB's directives, splitting the architecture school off from the sponsoring foundation. In order to do so and have the school survive and prosper, the school would then need to be financially solvent without help from the foundation. "To become financially autonomous," wrote assistant editor Caroline Massie, "the Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) School of Architecture is launching the Campaign for Independence, a fundraiser with the goal of raising $2 million by the end of 2015." Shortly thereafter, the school hired a new dean, Aaron Betsky, to help lead the school through its fundraising and into their future. (Massie talked to Betsky in March 2015 about the issues facing the school.) By August 2015, the school had raised half of its $2 million target. And by the end of 2015, the school had raised all $2 million, allowing it to declare its independence from the Foundation and apply to theHLC for accreditation.

Now, the school is on its own (with a little more funding for overhead and legacy programs from the Foundation expected through 2019), and to celebrate said independence has recently gone through a rebranding. (The Foundation owns the "Wright" name and all copyrights, so some form of rebranding was going to need to happen.) "The solution we finally came up with," wrote dean Betsky for us a month ago, "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." Read Aaron Betsky's full article here.

From the edge of obscurity and dissolution to a new lease on life, Frank Lloyd Wright's legacy continues ... half the year in the Arizona desert and the other half below the southern bank of the Wisconsin River.