Frank Lloyd Wright’s School of Architecture at Taliesin is alive and well, after a lengthy process to change its name, location, and board, and separate completely from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Now called the School of Architecture, the private college that offers a master’s degree in architecture has completed its first year (though mostly remote because of coronavirus) from its two new homes, Arcosanti and Cosanti, in Arizona. RECORD caught up with former Taliesin dean Chris Lasch, who was appointed president of the revamped institution last June, to discuss the transition and what the future holds.
This has been quite the year for you and the school. How has it been?
It was pretty traumatic at first and a lot of work. We couldn’t come to an agreement with the foundation and basically lost our leases at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin.
It was also a one-two punch with the pandemic. We were remote for summer and fall 2020 at our new locations and brought everyone back to campus in a hybrid way in January. We have spent the past year making sure our program is still intact, so that we can take care of our students. We are the same institution, just in new locations with a new name.
When I was offered the position as president by the board, I took it because continuity during this time of transition is our main priority.
How did the contract with Arcosanti and Cosanti come up?
One of our current board members thought that Cosanti and Arcosanti might make sense as new locations. Both are zoned for non-profit education use and have operated as such since they were established in the late 1950s and 1970, respectively. He made that connection and opened the door to our agreement with the Cosanti Foundation.
Both locations were founded, designed, and built by Paolo Soleri after he left Taliesin West, where he was an apprentice of Wright’s in the late 1940s. They were designed for the learning and practice of architecture in much the same way as Taliesin West, with generous outdoor space for experimental building and construction. And Cosanti has the advantage of being in the Phoenix metro area.
How does the school year work, with its different locations?
We only have these home bases in Arizona at the moment, and we’re actively looking for a new Midwestern home, perhaps in Wisconsin or Chicago.
Our program is 3.5 years and has a seasonal rhythm to it. Traditionally we moved our program and students between two states every few months: we used to be in Wisconsin from June to mid-October, and then Arizona from late November to May.
The school is known for its hands-on “learning by doing” pedagogy. Has this changed?
We built our first shelter projects at Arcosanti this spring, and they’re amazing. We’re expanding this and have a new group design-build program, called Usonia 2021, focused on service, learning to complement the individually focused thesis. It plays on Wright’s Usonia program of housing, which was designed to address rising prices in housing in the middle of the last century. We need a new program that addresses the urgency of today. Students will work in communities all over the States, and it is a way for the school to reach out into the world.
How is enrollment?
Class kicks off on September 1. We’re coming into fall with about 11 students—that’s down from about 28 in January 2020. We didn’t admit an incoming class fall 2020 because of the uncertainty of the transition, but also the pandemic. We’re rebuilding, but I think it will take a while to let people know we’re still out there.