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Opinion / Gregory Scruggs

Just deserts

Just deserts

The School of Architecture (TSOA), one of the most celebrated design institutions in the US, has moved once again. Earlier this month, students started the new term at the Cattle Track Arts Compound in Scottsdale, Arizona, having relocated from the experimental city of Arcosanti. Founded by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1932, the design school has been nomadic for three years after almost closing down in 2020, when an accreditation issue caused it to split from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. This led to the school’s departure from its original Unesco-designated Taliesin West campus.In an era of computer-aided architecture, TSOA prizes hands-on learning. Coursework culminates in a design-build thesis in which students construct their own shelter. I visited TSOA recently for Monocle’s The Forecast and was impressed by the freethinking students working with natural materials in the vastness of the desert landscape. After the acrimonious break from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, there was a certain poetry to TSOA landing at Arcosanti, which was conceived by Italian-American architect Paolo Soleri. He too was a Wright disciple who broke away from the master.Arcosanti is about an hour’s drive north from bustling Phoenix but it feels much further. The sense of remoteness and isolation contributed to the esprit de corps among the small but dedicated coterie of students who had chosen to buck a traditional architectural education and pursue unconventional dreams amid the dunes. The school’s educational approach works: under the egalitarian guidance of TSOA’s dean, Stephanie Lin, the principal of architecture studio Present Forms, graduates have forged successful careers by either joining prestigious firms or starting their own. While Scottsdale’s location will make it easier for guest lecturers to drop in, the setting also lacks some of the edgy character that gave TSOA its cachet. The school would be wise to ensure that its incoming class still gets a healthy dose of wild desert air.Gregory Scruggs is a writer and regular contributor to ‘Monocle on Design’. For more on Arcosanti, pick up a copy of ‘The Forecast’.

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