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March 12th, 2020


You know that feeling when kids are speechless, when a group of kids gets strangely quiet? That’s what I witnessed happening week after week of Taliesin Summer Camp as students entered and explored Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio. Armed with sketch pads and pencils, even the most rambunctious and talkative of kids appeared to have a calm come over them as they found a space or object in the house that they wanted to sketch.

Helping to coordinate the programming for Taliesin Preservation, I have the unique opportunity to observe students as they participate in our Summer Camps. 2019 was my first year in this role, and I was focused on taking in the experience with the kids. We learned from a DNR Warden how to build outdoor shelters with natural materials, and explored the world of inflatable architecture with visiting faculty from the School of Architecture at Taliesin. These experiences helped the students learn to push the boundaries of architecture and ‘break the box,’ as Frank Lloyd Wright would say.

Thinking ‘out of the box’ is also something the students helped me do. As a guest instructor for an afternoon, I posed the question ‘What is art?’ to the students. Such a simple question resulted in an incredible conversation among the 10-15 year old students. We were delving into this conversation to explore Wright’s focus on drawing inspiration from the environment to inform their design. The responses came back: ‘Art is a form of expression,’ ‘Art is a way of communicating,’ ‘Art expresses things that are difficult to express with words,’ ‘Art is often beautiful, but doesn’t have to be,’ ‘Architecture is Art.’ We then explored art made with natural materials. We viewed images of creations made by artists like Andy Goldsworthy, and then went outside so students could create their own masterpieces. As I walked around observing the students’ work, I asked them about their design and inspiration. One student had made a small conical structure that was about one foot tall. As I talked to her about her design, she said, “I wonder what it would feel like to step on it?” I told her to go ahead and step on it if she wanted, this work is more about process, experimentation, and exploration, than final product.

Throughout the week, it was truly a moving experience to watch student’s imaginations stretch as they discovered new possibilities. Even though we focus on process over product, each student engaged in the creative architectural development of a building, and constructing a 3D model. All the students took to heart the idea of breaking the box. For example, one student designed a star shaped building, another a tower that served as a sort of fortress of solitude with a special place for her to practice the multiple instruments she played. Each student put thought, purpose, and reasoning into their creation. Beyond that, trial and error, along with experimentation were key in bringing their designs to life in their models.

As the snow starts to melt, and the sun rises higher in the sky, I am looking forward to another amazing year of learning from, and with, our Summer Camp participants. This year, we are bringing in some new instructors, and camps will take place at Hillside, on the Taliesin estate (rather than the Wyoming Valley School) which will allow for greater exploration of the seven Wright designed buildings and the 800 acres that surrounds them. Also new this year, each camp will explore the intersection of food and architecture, and I have no doubt that participants will continue to break out of the box when it comes to understanding the relationship between these two issues.—Written by Abby Howell-Dinger, Taliesin Preservation Program Coordinator

For more information about Taliesin Summer Camps, visit: