The shelter program is a unique experiential learning opportunity for students to design, build, and live in a structure they have created while enrolled at The School of Architecture at Taliesin. As part of the “learning by doing” educational approach advocated by Frank Lloyd. Wright, the program demonstrates how climate, building materials, site orientation, and client needs and preferences inform design choices based on the tenets of Wright’s organic architecture. Constructing a shelter engages a student fully in a process of architectural discovery, where inspiration and hard work are joined with fellowship and commitment.
The shelter program originated in the late 30s with the construction of Taliesin West. During the first years of residency apprentices lived in small shepherd’s tents that were made of canvas, set on metal frames attached to a 10-foot square masonry base. As simple variations of tetrahedrons and pyramids these structures not only provided apprentices with housing, but also helped them understand the nature of the vast Sonoran desert in which they lived. Although the Shelter Construction Program has evolved since its founding to include more design choices, all shelters have been built by students living closely with the natural environment, thereby better understanding what Wright envisioned when he wrote in his autobiography: All students are highly encouraged to participate in the Shelter Construction Program to improve their architectural skills, gain a deeper appreciation of the design/build process in relationship to nature, and to participate in a team effort that is remarkably fulfilling.