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Exclusive: School of Architecture at Taliesin will change its name, move to Cosanti

So Long Sonoran

Exclusive: School of Architecture at Taliesin will change its name, move to Cosanti

Arcosanti as viewed from the southeast, showing the entire campus. The school is hosting online classes at Cosanti and Arcosanti over the summer, with plans to try to move to Cosanti permanently. (Carwil/Wikimedia Commons)

AN has learned that the college formerly known as the School of Architecture at Taliesin will change its name and move summer classes to Cosanti and Arcosanti, with plans to try to make Cosanti its permanent home.

The move comes after a protracted back-and-forth with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation that spilled out into public view earlier in January when the school announced it would be closing after 88 years. After an outpouring of support from alumni and funding commitments, the school reversed its vote to close at the beginning of March but will need to vacate both Taliesin campuses—West in Scottsdale Arizona and East in Spring Green, Wisconsin—and can no longer use the Frank Lloyd Wright or Taliesin name, though it will retain its accreditation and students. The last time the school changed its name was in 2017 after it split from the foundation as part of the accreditation process, and after July 31 of this year, any remaining association will be formally severed.

So where will they go from there? In a recent call with Dan Schweiker, the chairperson of the school’s Board of Governors, and Jon Kelley, a lawyer at Chicago-founded law firm Kirkland & Ellis, LLP, which is representing the school, the two laid out where things are headed.

“The school will survive and have a bright future,” said Schweiker, but not without some restructuring. For the summer semester, classes are in the process of moving to Paolo Soleri’s Cosanti, just a few miles from Taliesin West, as well as to Arcosanti, though learning is taking place remotely due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic (it should be noted that the school will also receive $500,000 in coronavirus-related aid under the CARES Act).

A dome at Arcosanti with a symbol on top
The Ceramic Apse at Arcosanti. Along with the Foundry Apse, where bronze wind bells are still made by hand, it is one of the campus’s most distinctive features. (Jan Pauw/Flickr)

The school is currently working to get approval from the state of Arizona and the Higher Learning Commission to formally hold in-person classes across both Soleri projects on a permanent basis, although Schweiker also raised the possibility of renting space back at both Taliesin campuses for special occasions. The prospective move makes sense; the same hands-on ethos is present in Soleri’s studio-slash-former-residence, and space on the five-acre property will be reserved for Taliesin’s historic student shelter-building program.

Regardless of whether the relocation is ultimately approved, the school’s board is also turning over and taking on a more international bent, and the administration will shift. Joining the board will be the following new members:

  • Bing Hu, founder and the president of H&S International (Alum)
  • Qingyun Ma, former dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Southern California, founder and design principal of MADA s.p.a.m. (Alum)
  • Chris Koch, CEO of Carlisle Companies Inc.
  • John Sather, managing partner of SWABACK Architects + Planners (Alum)
  • James Benson, president and CEO of Benson Botsford LLC and former president and CEO of John Hancock Life Insurance Co.
  • Victor Sidy, managing principal of Victor Sidy Architect (Alum)

Curator and critic Aaron Betsky, who departed as the school’s president in May, will be temporarily replaced by current dean Chris Lasch of Aranda\Lasch until a permanent replacement can be found.

As for what will happen at both Taliesin campuses, the foundation, which at the time claimed financing the school made it unable to maintain the historic structures it’s responsible for, will offer education across both campuses, as required by Frank Lloyd Wright’s will. What form this might take is still up in the air, though the foundation has put out virtual K-through-12 STEAM classes for parents stuck at home with children during the pandemic.

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