The School of Architecture evolves immersive learning at Arcosanti

Organic exhibition

The School Of Architecture, founded by Frank Lloyd Wright as the Taliesin Fellowship in 1932, has undergone a transformation. Two years after separating from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, TSOA has landed and is thriving at Arcosanti, the experimental desert community in Arizona owned and operated by The Cosanti Foundation.

The school retains its longtime core values, offering a contemporary design education based on sustained immersive, experiential and experimental learning. But it has set a new course by encouraging a broader definition of community, and a more dynamic interpretation of the intersection between architecture and the environment. The curriculum is experimental, hands-on, and immersive, and offers 2 and 3+ year NAAB-accredited Master of Architecture degrees, depending upon educational background, as well as a 1.5 year Master of Science in Design-Build degree.

Highlights include The Shelter Program, the school’s capstone design-build program that provides a unique opportunity for students to design and build structures that can be used as housing for future students. The small single-occupancy “shelters”, created by students in response to the landscape and desert climate, have been a hallmark of the program since its inception in the 1930s, and reflect the school’s commitment to the relationship between nature and the built environment.

The Shelter Program is evolving, just as the school is evolving. We are pushing our idea of “shelter” to new bounds, not just as physical constructions, but as fully fleshed out projects.” Another unique component of the curriculum is the Usonia 21 Program, an interdisciplinary service-learning initiative, modeled after Wright’s mid-century Usonian project, that is focused on developing student-led design and building projects in underserved communities, with an
emphasis on innovative affordable housing and economic development.

This year, the Usonia 21 initiative is focused on Seabreeze, NC, a remarkable Jim Crow-era Black-owned beachside resort community that offered Black people from all along the eastern seaboard, a rare opportunity to celebrate and relax at the seashore during segregation. The project is a multidisciplinary effort between TSOA, the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts at University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Land Rich, an organization that works to reverse Black land loss.

Arcosanti is a dynamic new home base for The School of Architecture, representing a continuation of its original values while providing expanded horizons. The campus has also presented a new opportunity to grow alongside, learn, and engage with Arcosanti’s living experimental community dedicated to arcology.

This ongoing engagement contributes to a new level of immersive learning in which students overlap with approximately 60 residents who work in agriculture, bronze, ceramics, tours, and archives, among other areas. Special programming, such as the recent Organic exhibition and regular lecture series, is designed to incorporate a wide diversity of leading voices into campus life and the curriculum.

The Organic exhibition, which ran from April 16 through May 15, 2022, typifies the freedom found by the School in its new context, to explore alternative forms of education, experimental architecture, and community life. “The exhibition gave us a chance to step back and re-examine the term popularized by Wright, in order to identify new opportunities and relevance, with a new set of participants in the conversation.” says Lin. Source and photos Courtesy of The School of Architecture.