The Meaning of Fellowship (Part 1)

(A multipart reflection on fellowship written by Lira Luis)

“Fellowship work in its manifold branches will come directly under the influence of an organic philosophy: organic architecture for organic life. At Taliesin this life will be lived with such sense of the Future as may belong to the present.” -Frank Lloyd Wright

Part 1 - Taliesin Fellowship

Most people, when they hear the word “fellowship” will define the word based on their own perceptions and situations in life. Cambridge Dictionary defines it in two ways:

1) “a friendly feeling that exists between people who have a shared interest or are doing something as a group”; or

2) a status within “a group of people or an organization with the same purpose”.

In moments of uncertainty, I find that fellowship is what gives clarity to an unknown future.

The first fellowship I worked towards was, after graduating from a 5-year institutionalized undergraduate architecture education at the University of Santo Tomas (College of Architecture and Fine Arts) in Manila, Philippines. Some of the most prestigious companies in the country acquire a list of recent graduates from my alma mater for their recruitment efforts. When they learned that I graduated with cum laude honors (only 5 of us received this honor out of nearly 100 graduates), they sent me offers of employment even before applying to get interviews. It was also during this time that I was researching graduate schools and encountered Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship (that offered a Master of Architecture degree) from a book at the Thomas Jefferson Library of the US Embassy in Philippines.

There were so many choices and my architecture future at that time was unknown and yet to be written. So I wrote to Richard “Dick” Carney, Director of Admissions at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture (FLWSA) who was also CEO/President of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation (1995), and sent my application that included a portfolio, letters of reference, and an essay on why I wanted to pursue the fellowship.

I worked towards the fellowship for the strong vision it offered and the platform of process on which I can create my path in architecture -- primarily the vision of an apprenticeship not scholarship, based on a free individual work-experience under the influence of an organic philosophy; and secondarily the Master of Architecture degree. This is an excerpt from my essay application to the Taliesin Fellowship:

“I am very much interested to study at Taliesin for the purpose that I want to know more about the works of Frank Lloyd Wright. I believe that my architectural ideas are greatly influenced by his architectural concepts. I want to experience being an apprentice at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, and at the same time wish to earn the degree of Master in Architecture.”

Lira Luis (inside dashed blue circle) at the Taliesin West Studio circa 1998.

Lira Luis (inside dashed blue circle) at the Taliesin West Studio circa 1998. (L-R: foreground - Lira Luis, Peng Qinghua; middle - Jochen Walther, Michiko Shimada; back - Arnold Roy, Phil Castle, Albert Damon)

When I started my graduate program in 1997, the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture (FLWSA) under the leadership of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, had just received its NAAB accreditation. Twenty years after I undertook my NAAB-accredited Master of Architecture degree, its spin-off independent company, the School of Architecture at Taliesin (SoAT) formed (on June 14, 2017) as a non-profit corporation in Arizona, now faces an existential moment, its future uncertain.

L-R: Terry Kerr (Adjunct Faculty at Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture), Lira Luis, Susan Jacobs Lockhart (daughter of Frank Lloyd Wright clients of a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Jacobs House) and Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation board trustee) during her graduation ceremony at Taliesin Hillside Theater in Spring Green, WI on June 17, 2000.)

L-R: Terry Kerr (Adjunct Faculty at Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture), Lira Luis, Susan Jacobs Lockhart (daughter of Frank Lloyd Wright clients of a UNESCO World Heritage Site [Jacobs House] and Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation board trustee) during Lira's graduation ceremony at Taliesin Hillside Theater in Spring Green, WI on June 17, 2000.)

 

When I first read the news of SoAT board's decision to close and its later reversal of that decision, I held on to the vision of the Taliesin Fellowship that has become a part of me and a part of me has become a part of Taliesin, long after I had graduated (Lira Luis, Taliesin Breakaway, Wisconsin River Valley Journal, 1997):

It’s “Organic architecture for organic life… a life lived with such sense of the Future as may belong to the present (Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography, 1932 edition).”

So to my fellow members of the Taliesin Fellowship -- original, legacy, past, present, and those who came simply for the experience, including those who consider it as family: The time you spent in Frank Lloyd Wright's "organic classroom" remains with you. A part of you has become a part of Taliesin, and a part of Taliesin has become a part of you. Look inwards and you will find the Force of Taliesin burning on the inside and yearning to be shared with the world outside. No one can take that away from you... or close it.

L-R: Minerva Montooth, of the Taliesin Fellowship, a longtime resident at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin and the widow of acclaimed architect Charles Montooth. She is also believed to be one of the few remaining people alive to have personally known Mr and Mrs Frank Lloyd Wright. And Lira Luis wearing red.

L-R: Minerva Montooth (of the Taliesin Fellowship, a longtime resident at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin and the widow of acclaimed architect Charles Montooth. She is also believed to be one of the few remaining people alive to have personally known Mr and Mrs Frank Lloyd Wright), and Lira Luis in September 2019 at Taliesin, Spring Green, WI. (Image courtesy of Robert Kerans)

“Apprenticeship not Scholarship… should be the attitude of mind of the Fellowship (Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography, 1943 edition, page 392).” 

Let’s reclaim the Taliesin Fellowship promise that out of its obscured present a brighter Future will come. The 21st century or beyond has more than enough room for the kind of Freedom Taliesin (education) has to offer.

(Up next: Part 2 - The RIBA Fellowship)

 


Lira Luis is a 2020 Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). She is the first and only Taliesin Fellow from the Philippines at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture (FLWSA) since its founding. She is principal architect at ALLL/Leapfrog Project, delivers presentations at national conferences named in the "Gold 100 Listing of the world's largest and most successful trade shows” for the past 20 years. She organized and led the AIA national Practice Management’s (PMKC) A’19 session "Virtual Architectural Practice: Alternate Realities for the Emerging Gig Economy" and “Virtual Practices: The Impact of Technology and Transience on New Histories in Practice” partner program at the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial, subsequently co-authored a resulting white paper with AIA Trust “An Architect's Guide to Virtual Practice” that reached more than 30,000 AIA members, and moderated the webinar “Virtual Architectural Practice – An Alternate Reality”. At A’16 Conference on Architecture she shared solutions about the gig economy and potential for Virtual Practices in “Rethinking the Workplace: Co-Working Spaces for Architects”. She brings more than 25 years of architecture experience and is emeritus chair of AIA national PMKC. After graduating from the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture (FLWSA), working in firms in the USA and abroad, earning NCARB certification, she runs a Virtual Practice on Blockchain Technology.

 

 

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