The School of Architecture

The School of Architecture

Mayer, AZ


The School of Architecture Develops Design-Build Learning Program at Arcosanti in Arizona, USA

By tsoa
Dec 9, '22 11:37 AM EST

Written by Maria-Cristina Florian, Archdaily  June 27, 2022

The School of Architecture, founded by Frank Lloyd Wright as the Taliesin Fellowship in 1932, is undergoing significant transformations. Two years after separating from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, TSOA landed at Arcosanti, an experimental desert community in Arizona owned and operated by The Cosanti Foundation. In line with the school’s values, the program at Arcosanti seeks to provide students with a contemporary design education based on immersive, experimental, and experiential learning. The curriculum offers 2 and 3+ year NAAB-accredited Master of Architecture degrees and a 1.5-year Master of Science in Design-Build.

One of the highlights of this experimental curriculum is The Shelter Program, the school’s capstone design-build program. The idea behind the program is to provide students with a unique opportunity to design and build structures that can be used as housing for future students. These small single-occupancy structures, designed and built by students in response to the landscape and desert climate, have been a hallmark of the program since its inception in the 1930s at Taliesin West.

From site selection to design, construction, and inhabitation, the students are expected to formulate the entirety of their shelter project themselves. Each year, students are afforded to opportunity to remodel, rebuild, or construct new shelters within a specific procedure. The ability to initiate and execute a small comprehensive project while still at the School provides students a rare and rigorous platform to investigate architectural ideas holistically, solidly grounded in historical and cultural facts, circumstances, and context as informed by careful and penetrating research.

"What sets our school apart is our hands-on approach to learning. We're the original learning by doing school. The Shelter Program is just that; it's a proving ground for your ideas. It tests you physically, mentally, emotionally, and intellectually, but it also puts you in the position to manifest and realize your ideas fully. Ideas are revealed through the process, which I don't think otherwise would happen if you simply did a regular thesis. 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 - Richard Sanchez, 2022 graduating student." 

Another unique component of the curriculum is the Usonia 21 Program, an interdisciplinary service-learning initiative modeled after Frank Lloyd Wright’s mid-century Usonian project. The program focuses on developing student-led design and building projects in underserved communities, emphasizing innovative, affordable housing and economic development.

This year, the Usonia 21 initiative focuses on Seabreeze, NC, a Black-owned beachside resort community that reacted to the Jim Crow segregation laws of the 1880s by offering Black people from the eastern seaboard a rare opportunity to celebrate and relax at the seashore during segregation. The multidisciplinary team involved in the project is developing an immersive storytelling project to reveal the rich history of Seabreeze through a blending of traditional documentary methods with new technologies such as VR, AR, and 360 audio and video. In addition, students are working with the community to co-design a new multi-use development. This will feature commercial and culinary spaces, affordable housing, and a small museum dedicated to the history of the community and the place. 

The School of Architecture was formally initiated as The Taliesin Fellowship in 1932 when twenty-three young people came to live and learn at Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s estate and home near Spring Green, Wisconsin. The School’s current program and academic life build upon its heritage while adapting to the needs of a changing world. The school favors learning by doing, developing new ways of looking, and an ability to honor and build with the landscape.