Shelter from Taliesin to Manila

Lira Luis, runner up in the 2004 Next Generation® Design Competition for Portable Transient Shelter Pods, is chairing the digital visualization exhibit for the Taliesin 75th anniversary reunion, November 8-12 at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, AZ. The event celebrates Frank Lloyd Wright’s historic initiation of the Taliesin architecture school in 1932, which started off with twenty-three apprentices in Spring Green, WI.

The digital visualization exhibit spans the work of generations of fellows, beginning with the original apprentices, and showcases the evolving technology of students’ illustrations from iconic hand-drawn colored pencil drawings to airbrush renderings and computer models. It will be available to the public online, along with webcasts of speaker sessions.

Luis is herself is an alumna of the school, and the first Filipina graduate. While at Taliesin Luis, like the other first and second year students, lived in a 10’x10’ canvas tent. The shelter became a cornerstone of her career, directly influencing her Next Generation entry and many successes since. “My Taliesin education focused on learning-by-doing via living and building shelters,” she explains. “It was a way for apprentices to learn to experience the environment so that we may better understand how to connect with it and reflect this in our designs. Mr. Wright believed in blurring the lines between inside and outside, which resulted in him developing the mitered glass windows prominent in most of his landmark buildings.”

In that tradition, Portable Transient Shelter Pods were designed as prefabricated units to be set inside an abandoned waterfront building in Manila. Luis had witnessed the Filipino city’s vast population of migrant seafarers and thought back to her Taliesin tent as a model for a solution to their housing problem. The Pods would create private, temporary shelter within a greater public space for sailors between gigs. In the end the project was not funded, but Luis’s plans for a modular shelter unit had been set in motion.

Several NGOs have been in contact with Luis wishing to adapt the Pods for disaster relief, starting after the devastating Asian tsunami of 2004. A British Columbian group read about the Pods in the pages of Metropolis while other groups found the idea on the Open Architecture Network, prompting Luis to adapt the indoor design for outdoor use. The new design is currently in negotiations.

Since Next Generation, Luis has become an active role model for Filipino architecture students. Her Pods were exhibited at the University of Santo Thomas in Manila and she was a keynote speaker for the United Architects of the Philippians convention this May. She has also released an audio book called FRANKly Speaking: It’s the Wright Way (For a sample of the audio book click, here). Currently, Luis is practicing architecture in Chicago.

“Everything that I have been actively involved in is connected,” says Luis. “When I submitted my Next Generation entry it opened some doors for me and led to other opportunities. People read the article, including my mentors at Taliesin. They saw how it had a relationship to sustainability and encouraged me. It’s connected with the journal entries I wrote at school and ties in to the shelter where I lived. And it was the organic connection to nature that started the first thought.”

For more information on Lira Luis go to

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