Many posts ago I eluded to a rather embarrassing moment in my career development, but never quite disclosed the full story. Months later, an experience has prompted me to tell the story in-full, if only to set the scene for a recent trip I took with Knoll and several other local Denver designers to Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home, studio, architecture school, and in many ways, complete Xanadu in the Arizona desert.
So here goes…
If the diversity in age and educational background of my M.Arch class is any indication, it’s evident that a calling to become an architect finds people at many different ages and stages of life. From a 40-something former computer programmer to a 30-something friend that had studied medicine and law before deciding on architecture (rounded out with classmates including a physicist, mathematician, and environmental designer,) our past vocations and interests ran the gamut of possible professions and passions.
My calling to become an architect came twice. First, as a young child with a preference for building with blocks rather than Barbies, and consistently requesting that my parents and I go for walks to “look at houses.” Throughout school, when given an open-ended assignment, most of my papers were written on various architectural topics. From a research paper on Julia Morgan to a humanities project in which I “recreated” Frank Lloyd Wright’s sketchbook over a 10 year period, my love of architecture remained present throughout my academic development.
All this changed when I discovered school “politics.” After pursuing school president and working on some local political campaigns, around the time to apply to college I decided confidently on the George Washington University, where I might hone my skills in the sociopolitical sphere.
Fully accepted and with my first deposit in place, my family and I went on a last hurrah family vacation during spring break of my senior year. My parents had planned a great trip to Arizona- exploring Phoenix, Scottsdale, staying in a Frank Lloyd Wright hotel, and later exploring the stratified landscape of Sedona.
One stop on our vacation led us to Taliesin West. Fast forward from parking to sitting in the first stop on the tour; Frank Lloyd Wright’s personal studio. As a full group of about 25 people looked on, our youthful 80 year old docent began explaining the unique environment that Wright created. Several minutes into this speech I began to cry. Not quiet, muffled tears, but true, loud, ugly sobs.
In perhaps what might be one of the very few epiphanies I might have in this lifetime, all of my ambitions and aspirations to become an architect became apparent at this moment.
To the chagrin of my younger sister, and the beckoning calls of my mother that I was already accepted at GW and that I should not apply to the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, I left Taliesin with a complete change in mind and attitude regarding my future academic and professional course.
While I ultimately did not attend Wright’s school (and was consequently not required to build my own dwelling place first semester), I did end up pursuing art, art history, and English in college, all the while building a portfolio to attend architecture school on the graduate level.
Currently I have one more ARE and I will finally be allowed to say that I fulfilled a dream to become an Architect (with a capital A!) rooted in a meandering path and a powerful moment of understanding.
As you can imagine, given the opportunity to revisit Wright, I felt both trepidation and excitement. Would I feel sentimental, inspired, or-least desirable—underwhelmed? Having been taught to accept and give constructive criticism at a moment’s notice, would I feel critical of a place that at one time felt magical for reasons both tangible and inexplicable?
Thankfully upon experiencing a tour as an older version of my rather consistent self, I felt both the nostalgia I had anticipated, as well as a deeper connection to why the tour had been special the first time around.
While I am not a Wright zealot by any means, being in an environment entirely curated by one individual’s subscription to a specific way of life communicated through design still proved to be visually and conceptually fascinating, especially given the small chance a place like Taliesin could ever be realized in today’s society (building code alone would drastically change the aesthetics and proportions.)
Wright’s vision to create an environment that is school, residence, museum, not to mention a living laboratory that continues to facilitate experimentation and a special appreciation of nature, art, and culture remains highly relevant. In most architecture studios today, these principles remain an important cornerstone in how designers think about thoughtfully integrating nature into the built world (and vice versa.)
As we drove to the airport from the landmark, I felt appreciative of the opportunity to see something of personal significance twice in my life, not to mention at vastly different stages of life. Not only was it a moment to reflect, but also a moment to acknowledge that for me personally, intuition and accepting life’s obvious and subtle cues remains an equally important part in decision-making as reason.
Something tells me Wright might agree.