The Wright Stuff: Baylor Professor Tosses the Traditional to Teach About Iconic Architect

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    Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright residence in Mill Run, Pennsylvania (Getty Images)
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    Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright estate in Spring Green, Wisconsin (Photo courtesy of Taliesin Preservation)
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    Taliesin, 800-acre estate of Frank Lloyd Wright in Spring Green, Wisconsin (Photo courtesy of Taliesin Preservation)
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    Elise King, assistant professor of interior design at Baylor University
April 6, 2020

‘You wanted to go back, watch it again and absorb some more,’ interior design student says

Media Contact: Terry Goodrich, Baylor University Media and Public Relations, 254-644-4155
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WACO, Texas (April 6, 2020) — One gorgeous spring day last year, students of Elise King, who teaches interior design at Baylor University, suggested she hold class outside.

It made sense. That was their week to study the work of the late American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. He was, after all, the man who incorporated the great outdoors into the indoors, designing structures that perched over a waterfall, nestled into a hillside, jutted over a cliff. King, an assistant professor, said OK.

This spring, there is no chance under the sun to have a class under the sun.

Faculty at Baylor and across the country have rushed to shift to online-only classes to comply with social-distancing orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. “And with students facing a litany of new distractions and other concerns, how could I keep them engaged with architectural history?” King said.

She hustled for an alternative to the customary lecture, sending a flurry of emails and social media to representatives of Wright buildings across the country, asking if they could create two- to three-minute minute videos about Wright’s work.

“Because of staffing reductions and shelter-at-home restrictions, it wasn’t easy for them,” King said. “But those at several Wright houses made videos for us, answered questions, provided resources from their collections and archives and did what they could.”

Taliesin, Wright’s 800-acre estate in Spring Green, Wisconsin — including a residence, a studio and a school of architecture — provided a video series reflecting nearly every decade of the architect’s 70-year career. Wright’s Martin House in Buffalo, New York, offered a close-up look at the making of Wright’s signature barrel chair. And a video from Kentuck Knob gave students a glimpse of the small, hexagonal house tucked into the woods of Chalk Hill, Pennsylvania.

For Caroline Hamblen, director of programs at Taliesin, and two other resident staffers, “sheltering in place means sheltering at this world heritage site. It is a great pleasure to be able to bring a snapshot of Taliesin during this time of uncertainty to Baylor students. It is humbling to know that we can assist in bringing this site — in a virtual way — to others who also are sheltering in place across the nation.”

“I found it fabulous,” said Jay Wilcox, a postbaccalaureate interior design student at Baylor. “She (King) had already sparked my interest because she was so passionate about the week coming, and then when all this (COVID-19) happened, she said she would make it different.”

In an opening video, King introduced Wilcox and other students to her basset hound (Lloyd, as in Frank Lloyd Wright), then shared videos and other resources, including online tours with staffers of Wright buildings.

“They walked you through the land and interiors of the home. You saw collections of Wright’s shells and corals,” Wilcox said. “You just don’t get that kind of experience from an inside lecture. I watched it one day and took notes, and then I actually went through it again the next day. You wanted to go back, watch it again and absorb some more.”

King became fascinated with Wright as a Baylor undergrad, when she did a summer internship at Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania, one of Wright’s residences. Currently, she is collaborating to develop a floor plan recognition and analysis tool — in large part to study Wright’s work — with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“I plan to continue using this new content even after we return to in-person classes,” King said. “Incredibly, this situation has provided an opportunity to foster new connections to create a more tailored learning experience. Wright lecture weeks are always fun and often a little different. And education is also about the experience of learning and finding joy in the process of learning.”

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 18,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

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