Survivalist tiny dorms at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin architecture school

Categories: Tiny House


Since Frank Lloyd Wright began building Taliesin West- his winter home and school in the desert-, students have been living in canvas tents as an alternative dorm. It was direct study of nature and the land, both important elements of Wright’s organic architecture.

Today the Shelter Program has evolved and students can design and build more complicated structures (they’re given a $1000 stipend and encouraged to raise more), but the small shelters continue to be off-grid, unplumbed and often without walls. This direct contact with the desert helps students confront just what is needed to provide shelter. “To me an architect is a man who,” wrote Wright in his autobiography, “knows the secrets of nature and studies them, is informed by them and comes out stronger with knowledge.”

Stephanie Schull, director of academic affairs at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, gave us a tour of a few of the 60 odd shelters (Note: We appreciate her giving us an impromptu tour and want to make clear that the opinions she gave during the interview were her opinions and not part of any school philosophy).

Students become full-time residents on both campuses, year-round, during their studies. This intense and rewarding residential experience is shaped by two forces that bear essential relevance on the experience of architecture: the force of the landscape as captured in the genius loci (spirit of place) of the two campuses, and the force of self-discovery in the context of a living culture of architecture. In addition to the more formal Integrated Studies (general education) requirements, students plan, prepare, participate in, and attend a wide variety of non-architectural offerings and activities at both Taliesin campuses.

Living Quarters
Most students live in modest rooms on campuses. The option of living in tents or shelters in the desert at Taliesin West, or in prairie shelters at Taliesin, offers students the unprecedented experience of shaping the quality of their living spaces and become the user of their own designs. For the desert dwellers locker rooms are provided where students store their belongings and have access to bathrooms and showers.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation is a leader in its communities in preserving the natural open space that comprises the inherent character of each of its campuses. The open spaces are one of the unique aspects of the Taliesin educational experience and students are encouraged to make full use of the properties by studying the components of biodiversity, understanding ecological responsibility, responding to the “poetry of place,” and learning to manage the impact of a built structure on its surrounding environment. 

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