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Design, Nature, and Discovery: An Interview with Andrew Pratt

Elizabeth Maske February 9th, 2024
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Drone footage of Taliesin, Wright's 36,000 square foot home

Andrew Pratt picks up the line while navigating French road signs in Northern Quebec. With the St. Lawrence River to his immediate left, and a mutual sense of relief at our steady cell signal, he shares his experience at Taliesin’s Biophilia workshop on the quiet drive to Novia Scotia. Guided by Madison-based design duo Art + Sons, the weekend workshop examined the intersection of nature and design—with Wright’s organic masterpiece serving both as the hub and inspiration for the immersive experience.  

Andrew, a retired real estate broker from Utah, was primarily drawn to the chance of staying on the architecturally rich estate. He shared how over the years, a career in architecture became a dream deferred: “What brought me to Taliesin, is I, since high school, have been an architecture fan. That was my first desire and secret passion, but I knew early on that I couldn’t do it because I was bad at math. Frank Lloyd Wright and Prairie School were idyllic for me. I only knew them photographically until I’d been there this September.”

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Detail of Corner Window in the Garden Room

Having grown up in a 26,000-square-foot house, Andrew is not often taken aback by unique properties. Taliesin, however, presented something overwhelmingly new: “I grew up in an unusual family home converted from a former hotel with 89 bedrooms, so I’m kind of used to eccentric, white elephant properties, which is also to say properties that require a lot of care. Taliesin of course, is its own universe. I’ve never experienced anything like it. It was majestic and very humbling.” 

In examining Wright’s architecture, there lies a captivating paradox—the allure of innovation entwined with the demanding labor it necessitates to upkeep: “Obviously novel architectural methods that aren’t necessarily longterm, like where some of those windows meet, and the foundations. That take a lot of work—which is part of the appeal, but also takes more effort to maintain.” In highlighting this delicate tension, Andrew underscores that the commitment to maintaining innovative design is both the challenge and the reward. 

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Workshop Participants in the Drafting Studio with Design Duo Art + Sons (Center Front)

With a keen eye for details, Taliesin reminded Andrew of the responsibilities involved in maintaining his family home: “Growing up, I didn’t always love it when I was there, because there was so much work going on, lots of chores and stuff. In hindsight, it taught me a lot. [While] at Taliesin, [my experiences] allowed me to understand the magnitude of the commitment involved. I was going through Taliesin, [knowing] that this was a place that took a lot of love to design, to build, and rebuild, and improve.”   

Andrew admits, “I love looking at construction and design. I’ve always been fascinated with how things come together.” He found himself particularly interested in Taliesin’s unique role as an architect’s home—understanding it as more than a dwelling, but an example of a craft encapsulating a narrative of intellectual exploration. “When an architect has their own home, it’s got all this other history, of being their workshop and mind center for everything going on with them,” he states. 

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Stencils Made from Natural Forms

Central to Taliesin’s construction and conception was its intimate connection to nature, a focal point of the weekend workshop. The three days unfolded with distinct activities blending art and nature, fostering a collaborative exploration of creativity among participants—from using natural forms as stencils to creating drawings in the studio to crafting crude x-rays of organic items on photographic paper.  

The initial assignment, he states, required participants to engage with art and nature by using natural forms discovered during a hillside walk near the windmill. These forms were employed as stencils to create drawings back in the studio, involving overlaying the outer shapes of leaves, branches, or other found objects. 

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Flora X-Ray Representation

The second involved using photographic paper activated by the sun. Participants placed the same natural items on the paper outdoors, exposing them for a brief period. Subsequently, the paper was immersed in water to halt the process, resulting in crude x-ray-like representations of the natural items. 

The third exercise involved a collaborative process where participants took turns completing one step in a drawing, followed by everyone shifting drawings. This iterative process resulted in variations of similar themes. Participants experimented with different approaches, choosing where their creations would be placed, and at times, creating variations in the same location. 

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Collective Drawing

Over the course of three days, Andrew immersed in architecture, design, and the nature that inspired Wright’s work. As he recalls his experiences, they seem to echo Frank Lloyd Wright’s ethos of embracing hands-on learning and new art forms. Even Wright’s views on self-sustainability required of residing on a large estate seem to parallel Andrew’s background.   

In contemplating these intersections, it becomes evident that Taliesin not only offers a space for architectural appreciation but unexpected connections; and through facilitating connections, whether with other people, with architecture, with history, or with our pasts, Taliesin continues to show us its role as convener, endlessly drawing us in with its unique charms. 

In closing, Andrew emphasized that his time Taliesin had a lasting impact. “I have a bad short-term memory, but my two days there are going to stick around with me for a long time. It was a big deal for me. It was a big deal for all of us.” He stresses, “It was such a magical thing. I hope it was good for you guys as an experience, as I have to feel that everyone in my group was blown away. We were doing our stuff and actively participating, but the amount of awe. I wasn’t the only one who was in awe.”