Press Room

University of Pennsylvania School of Design Partners with Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Philadelphia—The Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design (PennDesign) has entered into a 5-year collaborative research agreement with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation to assist in activities leading to the study and preservation of Taliesin and Taliesin West. The partnership will allow students and faculty to engage in graduate studios, internships, seminars, and theses on topics related to the life and work of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Led by Frank Matero, professor of architecture and chair of the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation and director of The Center for Architectural Conservation, the partnership will advance the conservation and management of Frank Lloyd Wright’s built legacy by exploring the full range of design and conservation issues associated with Wright’s work and his long legacy of experimentation at both Taliesin—the home, studio, school, and 800-acre agricultural estate of Wright in Spring Green, Wisconsin—and Taliesin West, the architect’s winter home and school outside Scottsdale, Arizona.

Continuing the Preservation program’s long tradition of ‘learning by doing’ through field-based research with partner institutions, the collaboration draws on the skill, research, scholarship and deep experience of PennDesign’s faculty and allows students the opportunity to experience the genius of Wright and the many conservation issues associated with his built designs. 

“I am very grateful to the Foundation for recognizing the mutually beneficial values and opportunities in this relationship,” Matero said. “While the preservation of buildings from the recent past has been on the rise, Wright’s buildings afford an unprecedented opportunity to examine the life work of an American master across a broad time period of great change in America.  It also challenges prevailing notions of whether buildings of the recent past require different approaches to their interpretation and technical interventions.”

The first research program to be undertaken through the new partnership will address the conservation of Taliesin West, a National Historic Landmark nestled in the desert foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale, Arizona. Built and maintained almost entirely by Wright and his apprentices, Wright’s winter home continues to be the headquarters of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and hosts the School of Architecture at Taliesin.

“We are excited to be partnering with the University of Pennsylvania and are looking forward to working with the students to find solutions to the unique challenges we are faced with when preserving these living sites,” said Emily Butler, the Foundation’s preservation manager at Taliesin West. “There is a strong legacy of learning by doing here at Taliesin West – Wright used the site as a laboratory and teaching tool for his apprentices.  We are glad to be able to continue that tradition with this partnership and to have the invaluable expertise and fresh insight of the students and faculty.”

“Balancing the needs of a working architectural school existing within a National Historic Landmark and pending World Heritage Site with over 110,000 visitors a year is no small challenge,” said Matero. “Moreover, the somewhat raw and immediate nature of the construction in the harsh desert environment makes its technical conservation very challenging.”

This month, Matero and a team that includes faculty members Andrew Fearon, John Hinchman, and Laura Keim and students Mia Maloney and Ashley Vail Losco began studying several spaces within the campus to better understand their complex history of evolution and current conditions. At the Foundation’s request, Taliesin’s original Dining Room and the Garden Room will be the focus of two student theses this year.

Over the next five years, additional projects will include the study of Taliesin West’s surrounding landscape and the looming threats from development and climate change in conjunction with the Department of Landscape Architecture department.

Matero explains, “Wright’s treatment of the landscape and the intense relationship it shares with the buildings may well be the most complex and fragile aspect of Wright’s ‘experiment in the desert.”

Matero’s experience with the conservation of Wright dates back two decades. In 1996, he and Wright scholar Dr. David Delong, professor emeritus of architecture and historic preservation at PennDesign, led a seminar on ‘Preserving Wright’ funded by the NPS/NCPTT and The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. From 1995 - 2005, Matero led a PennDesign team in a study of the exterior of Wright’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in preparation for the exterior restoration completed by the Museum in 2008.