- Associated Press - Friday, March 7, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - In 1963, Egyptian-born architecture student and Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice Kamal Amin built a small shelter in the desert at Taliesin West.

Like all of Wright’s students, he was required to build his own shelter and live in it in accordance with Wright’s “learning by doing” philosophy.

Amin hoped the shelter would impress his girlfriend. It eventually came to be known as the Lotus Shelter.

“As friends, the relationship didn’t last - as we got married,” said Amin, 85.

The structure has lasted, and it is one of the longest continually inhabited shelters occupied by students at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture in Scottsdale. And now, after more than 50 years, it is getting a makeover.

Students spent a weekend last month tearing off the tin roofing to correct bowing after consulting Amin, who lives in the Valley, on his design and original intent.

The Lotus Shelter - and no one is really sure who named it - is half-enclosed in a curved line of concrete block wall oriented toward the morning sun. The metal roof is a floating lotus-like design, and painted sunny yellow in the interior with a fireplace and chimney in the rear. In a word - groovy.

The shelters have a long tradition at Taliesin West, the winter home and studio of Wright. Taliesin West now houses the architecture school during part of the year and also offers public tours.

For more than 75 years, Wright apprentices and, later, students of the architecture school have built shelters among the boulder-strewn washes and cholla thickets.

The idea is to learn the fundamentals of construction, live in harmony with the land and avoid becoming “armchair architects,” which Wright despised.

Today, students have a choice of living in a dorm or in a shelter. Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture Dean Victor Sidy said the demand to live in or build a shelter outweighs demand for a dorm room.

Sidy built his own structure as a student on the Taliesin West campus. When he became dean in 2005, he revived shelter building, which had been relegated to an extracurricular weekend activity. Students often embark on building a shelter only to find that what worked on paper doesn’t work in real-world construction, and more than one student has had a structure collapse.

One or two shelters are built by students in a school year at Taliesin West’s 600-acre spread. Half of those students choose to build their own, and the other half choose to renovate an existing structure. Beyond their public popularity, historical significance and the credit students earn for building them, the structures often help graduating students stand out.

Chelsea Clark graduated in September 2012 but came back to put the finishing touches on her structure, called Seachelter, even after graduation. Over three years, she rebuilt an existing shelter that is raised above the desert floor, expanded its deck and added a lofty roof and hanging sleeping compartment.

Clark’s portfolio, which included her Taliesin West structure, caught the attention of her current employer, Cross 2 Design Group. The Seattle firm specializes in waterproofing.

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