The search for a new leader of Frank Lloyd Wright's School of Architecture concluded today, as the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation named Aaron Betsky the new dean in charge of Taliesin. Betsky previously served as director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, but stepped down from that position in January 2014. He was previously the director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute, and he directed the 11th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 2008. He has authored numerous books on art and architecture and continues to blog for Architect. Split between campuses in Spring Green, Wisconsin and Scottsdale, Arizona, the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture is in the middle of a fundraising campaign that could decide the future of the school's accreditation. Facing new rules from the Higher Learning Commission, officials from the institution said they must raise at least $2 million before the end of 2015, or the school will lose its standing once those new rules take effect in 2017. Betsky will "set the intellectual tone or the School," according to a press release, but he will also have to help tackle the school's financial challenges. "Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture broke the box and opened vistas toward a democratic landscape; he made organic architecture and built with, rather than on, the land before anybody talked about sustainable architecture," Betsky said in a statement. "I look forward to continuing the tradition of experimental architecture he did so much to define." The future of that tradition, however, remains uncertain. In December Sean Malone, president of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, said the school would remain committed to design education even if they are no longer able to award accredited degrees after 2017. With Betsky at the helm that mission appears intact; the Foundation said they will continue to award degrees at their Taliesin East and Taliesin West campuses either way, perhaps in partnership with accredited institutions. "We wanted a bold thinker and a talented leader," Malone said in a statement, "and we found both in Aaron." Betsky, who was born in Montana but grew up in the Netherlands, succeeds Victor Sidy, who returns to his private architectural practice. Betsky assumes the role of dean immediately.
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After almost eight decades of constant use, Taliesin West is ready for a makeover. The Scottsdale, Arizona site was Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home, studio, and architecture school. Today, the campus houses the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture and is also a popular tourist destination, with over 100,000 visitors annually. Now, time, climate, and footsteps have taken their toll on the landmark. A combination of heavy use and the complex's desert environment have left Taliesin West in need of significant restoration, as well as accessibility, sustainability, and safety upgrades. As a first step towards remaking Taliesin West, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation has selected Chicago firm Harboe Architects to prepare a preservation master plan of the site. “[T. Gunny] Harboe and his firm rose to the top of a truly extraordinary field,” Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation CEO and President Sean Malone said. The selection committee—which included Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation staff leadership, its Preservation Committee, and a Preservation Oversight Committee made up of five outside experts—chose Harboe Architects from among more than forty contenders. “Harboe had such a remarkable understanding of Wright’s work and this particular project,” Malone said. Harboe will undertake a year-long study of Taliesin West, a National Historic Landmark site constructed between 1937 and 1959, to determine the scope of the restoration (including cost and timeline). Through research, multiple site visits, and a cultural and structural history of the location, the preservation team will answer two questions: what needs to be restored and why. “Why is a really exciting question,” Malone explained. “Part of the project is [defining a] preservation philosophy. Then once we make those decisions, that’s going to drive the decision about how.” Besides Harboe, the team also includes Michael Henry, of Watson and Henry Associates, and Dorothy Krotzer, of Building Conservation Associates. Harboe’s team faces particular challenges in preserving a site that was never meant to be static. “Taliesin West is more complicated than a lot of sites because change over time was an inherent part of the story,” Malone said. Unlike other Wright sites (except Taliesin, the architect’s Wisconsin home and studio), the Scottsdale campus was not built for one particular time. Instead, it was designed as a laboratory, a space within which ideas about architecture could develop and change. “It’s a living place. Its evolution is part of its history,” Malone said.
Fifty-four years after Frank Lloyd Wright’s death, the village of Wraxall, England just killed plans to build one of the architect’s designs. Last August, Dr. Hugh Pratt, a local parish councillor, petitioned the planning board to build a Wright-inspired house on greenbelt land. Some area residents argued that the building would elevate the community’s aesthetics, but others worried that the house would set a precedent for further intrusions into the greenbelt. Opponents also expressed concern that Wright’s design is out of keeping with present-day sensibilities. “A design from the 1940s is not what a contemporary and innovative eco-friendly architect would propose. Even with some modern refinements, it’s a museum piece,” one commenter wrote online in response to Pratt’s planning application, which rejected in December 2013, according to the Bristol Post. Wraxall representative Bob Cook took offense at the the proposal and Wright's legacy, according to the Post. "I do not see why we should allow this odd American-designed house in our countryside," he told the newspaper. "Outside of the USA and Japan there is not one Frank Lloyd Wright–designed house. He can't be that influential if the rest of the world doesn't want them. It would be so wrong to allow this house to be built in our beautiful green belt." Like many of Wright’s houses, the Dr. Hugh & Mrs. Judith Pratt Residence is long and low, with horizontal courses of rough-hewn stone dominating the north elevation. The south side of the house is primarily glass. Drawings show the structure nestled into hillocks surrounding an artificial lake. In plan, the house is a series of overlapping circles. The largest circle embraces the building’s forecourt and main entry, plus a carport, an oblong living/dining space, and the circular kitchen. A semi-circular study projects off the end of the living/dining area closest to the kitchen. Off the opposite end of the open-plan space is a circular library. A hallway adjacent to the library leads to the private wing of the house, with three smaller bedrooms and, at the far end, a circular master suite. The Pratt Residence is unusual in several respects. The design on which it’s based, the House for Dr. & Mrs. O’Keeffe, was intended for a site in Santa Barbara, California—seemingly a far cry from Wraxall, England. If Pratt had been successful in securing permission to build, the house would have been the last of Wright’s posthumous works to be built with the blessing of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. The Foundation program through which Pratt acquired the rights to the design—as well as the assistance of a member of the Taliesin Fellowship—was discontinued in June 2010, over growing concerns about the program’s impact on Wright’s legacy. Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation President and CEO Sean Malone argued that the shift in site from Santa Barbara to England was not as radical as it seemed. Malone’s noted that Stephen Nemtin, the Wright-trained architect charged with transforming O’Keefe House into the Pratt Residence, was satisfied that Wraxall and the original site shared many key characteristics. “Stephen visited the proposed site at Tyntesfield Springs personally to assess if the site is suitable for this design,” Malone said. “He determined that the site has the desirable balance of water, mature trees, and open views which are essential for this design—and concluded that the site is entirely appropriate and will provide the right landscape setting for the building.” (Nemtin died in August 2013, after completing a full set of drawings for the Pratt Residence.) According to the Bristol Post, Dr. Pratt is considering an appeal to the decision. But no additional unbuilt projects will follow in the wake of the Pratt Residence, in part because the cutting edge of architecture today hardly resembles that of sixty years ago. “We believe projects built during Wright’s time maintain his legacy, but projects constructed after his death are different. They have to be different to meet contemporary building codes and in using contemporary materials and technologies,” Malone said. “Moreover, they are different because they can’t possibly reflect what Wright might have done during the important phase of taking the project from initial design to execution.” Wright’s first drafts were famously conceptual. With the pool of surviving Wright apprentices dwindling, predicting how the master architect would have completed a project becomes more a matter of guesswork than informed artistic interpretation. In addition, Malone said, the certification of designs as Wright-inspired can lead to misunderstanding. “We don’t want to suggest there are ‘new’ Frank Lloyd Wright buildings,” he explained. “It seems pretty obvious, but there can be confusion. So moving forward, we do not authorize, support, sponsor, or in any way encourage construction of unbuilt projects.”