Last year, architect Bing Hu would often come to Taliesin West in Scottsdale for events and projects associated with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. But every time he walked down the bougainvillea-lined pergola next to the iconic drafting studio, he noticed that the studio was always empty, except for the occasional cluster of tourists on a guided tour.
“Seeing the studio empty made me sad,” recalls Hu, who lived and studied at Taliesin West, receiving his master’s degree in organic architecture in 1991 from what was then called the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. “The philosophy here was living in an inspiring place and hands-on learning. The studio was always filled with architects and students working on real-world projects.”
The historic redwood and stone drafting studio—where a larger-than-life photograph of Frank Lloyd Wright takes up most of one wall—had emptied out over the years due to several factors. The continuation of Wright’s architectural practice, Taliesin Architects, disbanded in 2003. Wright’s original apprentices who had lived out their lives at Taliesin have, for the most part, retired or passed away. In 2020, the architectural school relocated to Paolo Soleri’s Cosanti and Arcosanti after parting ways with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which owns both Taliesin West and Taliesin in Wisconsin. The people and the computers disappeared from the drafting studio, and the dust began to collect.
“My career success was because of my education at Taliesin West,” says Hu, who started his architectural firm, H & S International, in 1994 with his wife, structural engineer WenChin Shi. “There’s nothing better than learning about architecture and having real-life experiences here in this studio.”
Rather than wallowing in nostalgia, Hu—a Sources for Design Icon for architecture—decided to do something about the empty studio. This spring, he took over half the studio for a newly launched internship program, which technically functions as an adjunct office for his own Scottsdale-based firm. The program is run by Shi and Hu’s daughter, Amanda Hu, a Yale university architecture graduate, and is meant for master’s degree students and foreign architects to fulfill professional practice requirements. “I’m not trying to start another school here,” says Hu. “The foundation has its own plans. But in the meantime, I want people to experience working and learning here.”
The first group of interns—graduate students from the University of Michigan and the University of Illinois—spent this summer at Taliesin West, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, working on the restoration of Ling Po’s cottage. The late Po, who like Hu emigrated to the United States from China, was an artist and Taliesin apprentice, best known for his work with Wright doing detailed renderings of the master architect’s buildings. “Ling’s cottage dates to the late 1940s or early 1950s,” Hu says. “The interns were doing as-built drawings of the building, cleanup and some demolition and restoration.” Hu plans to display his collection of Po’s art in the cottage when the restoration is completed.
Future projects for the interns may include work on H & S designs and the continuing restoration of the David and Gladys Wright house in Phoenix, the house that Wright designed for his son and daughter-in-law in the 1950s. Hu and Shi purchased the landmark circular residence last year, intent on saving it from developers.
As he helps this fall’s new crop of interns—architects from abroad—settle in, Hu drops by the studio frequently, reveling in the fact that computers and people are back at the desks. “This studio is the heartbeat of Taliesin West,” he says. “Yes, the building is hot in the summer, and we have to cover our computers when we leave because the roof still leaks, but the core of Frank Lloyd Wright’s learning by doing philosophy is rooted right here.”