April 14, 2010

What is The Arizona School?

by: Taz Loomans


This week I’m sharing my thoughts on last week’s Modern Phoenix Home Tour and Expo.  A few important ideas emerged over the course of events and I’d like to share them with you.  On Monday I talked about the Panel Discussion on the Restaurant Revolution.  Yesterday, Donna Reiner taught us about the mid-century modern banks in Phoenix.  Today I’ll talk about the most important, inspiring and entertaining lecture I’ve heard in a while and that is Reed Kroloff’s talk on The Arizona School during the Modern Phoenix Expo on Saturday.

Reed Kroloff was once a tenured professor and Assistant Dean at the ASU School of Architecture.  In fact I was one of his students way back when.  He moved on to be the Editor-in-Chief of Architecture magazine, then was the Dean of the Tulane University School of Architecture and now is the Director of the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum in Michigan.  More than being an architect and designer, Reed is a thinker, a theorist, a person who can create coherent ideas about the seemingly random and sometimes schizophrenic architectural work that goes on in the world.  Best of all, Reed is from Arizona!  His familiarity with our city, our state, our climate and our landscape has formed the theory he spoke to us about on Saturday.

Reed has formulated the concept of The Arizona School, a style of architecture that is unique to this Place.  How did this School come into being?  It emerged because Arizona is such a unique Place itself.  Our Mars-like rocky desert landscape, the open skies and insane heat are unlike any across our country.  We may take it for granted, but some of the first important architects that came to Arizona from places like Wisconsin fell in love with this strange and beautiful Place.  They recognized it’s unique beauty and they knew that the architecture of any other region of the country just wouldn’t do here.  So they came up with a whole new architecture that seemed more appropriate and this is the style that Reed has coined The Arizona School.

The father of The Arizona School is of course Frank Lloyd Wright.  He came from Wisconsin and Illinois where he had been doing important work.
But he completely changed his architectural vocabulary once he came to Arizona.  He didn’t merely repeat what he had been doing in the Midwest and other parts of the country.  He recognized that this is a very different Place that called for a very different architecture.  This I admire considering architects
like Richard Meier who have a place-less style that remains the same whether their building is in Alaska or in Arizona.  The oven-like glass jewelry box that is our Federal Courthouse is an example of Meier’s inflexible and un-Arizona School style.

Federal Courthouse in Phoenix by Richard Meier – photo by Timothy Swope

Back to FLW who incorporated the actual stones of our mountains, the actual sand and rubble of this Place into his concrete mixes.  He referenced the shape of our mountain ranges, he acknowledged our almost year-long sunniness while mitigating heat gain.  He got this Place.

Taliesen West by Frank Lloyd Wright – Photo from freakymartin.com

Reed also talked about the way Al Beadle (also from Wisconsin) defined a new kind of Modernism that responded to the desert.  The views, the blurring of the line between indoor/outdoor spaces and the embracing of the land evident in Beadle’s design was very much in keeping with The Arizona School.

House by Al Beadle in Phoenix – Photo by Joanna Zajusz

One of the most exciting parts of Reed’s talk was his reference to current architects who are also part of the lineage of The Arizona School.  Will Bruder (from Wisconsin as well) and his use of hard, rough, tough materials such as corrugated rusted steel, copper and raw concrete is some of what makes up the current generation of The Arizona School.

Will Bruder’s Burton Barr Library in Phoenix – Photo from azcentral.com

Other older and current architects named in The Arizona School were: Paolo Soleri, Antoine Predock, Blank Studio, Wendell Burnette, GouldEvans,
Rick Joy, Debartolo Architects, Architekton, and last but not least Eddie Jones.  Reed mentioned that the School is multi-generational and that a pretty pure
lineage has been maintained between generations.  For example, Soleri worked for Wright, Bruder worked for Soleri and Burnette worked for Bruder.

The names not mentioned by Reed but that I think should be added: Peter Koliopoulous of Circle West Architects, Michael P. Johnson and Merz Project, among others.  I know I’ve probably missed some important architects working on the forefront of The Arizona School, let me know who’s missing by leaving me a comment.

Even though the current generation of architects that Reed named are still young, only in their 50’s, I believe there is a whole new younger generation of people my age in their 30’s emerging in The Arizona School.  Perhaps this generation is too new to the scene and hasn’t built up a body of work yet (the economy hasn’t helped).  But watch for this younger generation as the future of The Arizona School.

My usual beef with the local and national architecture scene is the lack of representation of women and minorities. All these wonderful architects named and unnamed by Reed are predominantly white male firms or individuals.  It’s time for our community to nurture the advancement of talented women and minority architects in Arizona so they too can express their interpretation of The Arizona School.

When living within an environment of a particular style, it’s hard to name it much less appreciate it.  To us, it’s just good design.  But thanks to Reed, we can now name the architectural style unique to this Place and take pride in it.  Thanks to Reed, we can embrace, enhance and evolve The Arizona School that is so much an expression of who we are and where we live.

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5 Responses

  1. […] my previous post, What is the Arizona School, I mentioned that Frank Lloyd Wright was the father of the Arizona School, a term coined by Reed […]

  2. […] Arizona has an amazing architectural lineage starting from Frank Lloyd right up to today’s crop of young architects like Merz Project and […]

  3. […] Arizona has an amazing architectural lineage starting from Frank Lloyd right up to today’s crop of young architects like Merz Project and […]

  4. […] to influence, inspire, and form architecture in Arizona as we see it today.  Indeed the ‘Arizona School‘ has been increasingly recognized for creating buildings uniquely appropriate to the climate […]

  5. […] masterpieces that result from our Mars-like topography and climate are called works of the Arizona School by Reed Kroloff and are something to embrace, celebrate and shout from the rooftops about. […]

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