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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wisconsin Architecture School To Close After 88 Years

School, Landowner Couldn't Agree On How To Keep Doors Open

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Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mark Hertzberg
Taliesin was built by Frank Lloyd Wright and is now one of eight listings on the World Heritage list of Wright’s work. Photo courtesy of Mark Hertzberg

Frank Lloyd Wright’s School of Architecture at Taliesin (SoAT) is closing after 88 years.

The Wisconsin-born architect started an apprenticeship program at his home in Spring Green in 1932. Current students study at the Taliesin property in Wisconsin and Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation owns both Taliesin properties, but the school has been independent since 2017.

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In a statement announcing the closure Tuesday, SoAT said the school could not reach an agreement with the foundation in order to stay open.

“We did everything possible to fight for its survival but due to other forces it was not meant to be,” Dan Schweiker, the chairperson of SoAT’s Board of Governors, said in the statement.

Carrie Rodamaker is the executive director of Taliesin Preservation, the nonprofit that maintains the 800-acre Wisconsin estate where the school operates. She said the closure was a surprise.

“I was not expecting it. I do know that the school has struggled for a number of years trying to grow enrollment,” she said.

In fact, the school was in danger of closing before it went independent, and continued to struggle afterwards, SoAT president Aaron Betsky said in an interview published by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation in 2018.

“The school, because it was in mortal peril, shrank to a very small size, and we had to build up from there. Not only that, but we had to change our name and it turned out that those two things made it much more of a challenge for us to recruit new students than we thought,” he said. “We had hoped to be larger than we are now, but we’re at around 20 students.”

Betsky said in that interview he hoped to boost enrollment to 60 students. The school currently has about 30.

In an interview, SoAT Board of Governors Chairperson Dan Schweiker said the school could have survived if they grew its enrollment, but they couldn’t afford to build more student housing.

“We were caught in kind of that chicken and an egg situation, you know? We needed more students, but before we could get more students we needed more housing, and before we could afford more housing we needed more students. It just, unfortunately, didn’t work out,” he said.

According to a press release about the closure from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, SoAT had the option to continue to operate, but without accreditation. They decided against it, because architects need accredited degrees, Schweiker said.

“Our degree wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Michael Rust is an Arizona architect who attended the school in the 1980s.

“Everything I do today is based on my training I received up there. It was my home,” he said.

Rust, who is now the treasurer of SoAT’s alumni organization, described his time there as the best, most exciting years of his life. He said the program was a consuming educational and social experience, taking up 50 weeks of the year and almost seven days a week.

“When you’re in Arizona, you sleep in a tent, and you have to buy a tuxedo, because every Saturday is a formal experience,” he said.

He called the school’s closure “extremely sad.”

“It’s not a person, but … it was a living, breathing entity in itself,” Rust said.

The school will complete its spring semester and close by the end of June. It’s in negotiations with Arizona State University to allow students to finish their programs there.

The Taliesin property in Spring Green, as a whole, remains open.

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