The words contained in the Last Will and Testament of Frank Lloyd Wright stand in contrast to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation’s announcement last month that it may close the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.
Wright’s Will, written in 1958, leaves no doubt about his wishes and priorities. It notes the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation is an outgrowth of the ‘Taliesin Fellowship’ which was created in 1932 to support the school. The will states, “The purpose of the Fellowship – a cultural endeavor – is, in addition, the encouragement of the fine arts by the education and teaching of the art of architecture and collateral crafts.”
The Foundation, while insisting it does not want to close the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, is exploring watered-down partnering options that could remove the School of its accreditation or potentially give much control to other institutions.
The Taliesin Fellows (the alumni organization) have rallied in support of the School as an independent subsidiary of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, encouraging the Foundation’s board and raising funds to explore ways of structuring the School so that it meets the governance requirements of the Higher Learning Commission, which were recently made more stringent.
The Foundation’s actions, if followed to their conclusion, could transform the School from a vibrant institution that trains future architects to an empty shell offering “boutique seminars,” or allowing another institution to grant degrees under the Wright’s name.
That’s not what Wright intended: his Will speaks for itself about his intentions for his legacy.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Will continues, “Since their inception the Foundation and Fellowship have operated as the equivalent of a college in preparation of American architects in which capacity they have rendered full service the past twenty-five years.”
In 1985 Wright’s widow, Olgivanna, wrote a letter to the North Central Association (now the Higher Learning Commission) seeking accreditation. The letter states in part, “Mr. Wright and I founded the Taliesin Fellowship to give meaning to the lives of young people studying architecture so that as life continued they would not lose their creative energies. This has been the Taliesin thesis.”
Frank Lloyd Wright’s grandson, Eric Lloyd Wright, recently told a Phoenix NPR station his grandfather would be disappointed by either option being proposed by the foundation. Wright told KJZZ, “The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation was to be there to see that the Taliesin Fellowship survived,” Eric Wright said. “It was to help it. And it’s done just the opposite. It’s gotten rid of it. And once the Taliesin Fellowship is gone … if you lose that you lose the concept of what my grandfather was trying to achieve.”
The Foundation’s actions have stunned students and alumni and many are now mobilizing to save their school. The alumni have established a “Friends of the School” campaign page on their website, and are encouraging the public to sign their petition (click here) prior to the Foundation’s board meeting on September 26th.
“We implore the Foundation to read Mr. & Mrs. Wright’s words carefully and reconsider the path it has taken. There is still time to act and ensure the school’s future as a vibrant and living legacy to Frank Lloyd Wright,” said Kimbal Thompson AIA, TF, LEED AP; Apprentice 1967-1968; Taliesin Fellows President 2006-2007; current Vice President. Thompson is a practicing architect in Hawaii.
“The Wrights were adamant about continuing their vision of a school; an alternative to traditional education. As Mrs. Wright wrote, ‘It is a place for self-motivated, inventive students’ to ‘drink from the source and develop their own technique.’ It is obvious the purpose of the Foundation is to further the education of architects, through an accredited degree,” said Dave Myers, RA, LEED AP, NCARB, TF. Myers graduated from the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture in 2004 and is a practicing architect in St. Louis, MO.