|The Frank Lloyd Wright campus at Florida Southern College
by Augustus Mayhew
With Florida's coastline walled with condominiums and turnkey mansions, subdivisions blitzed with neo-traditionalist look-a-like houses and the state's historic districts adorned with Spanish and Italian imports, where more surprising to find Frank Lloyd Wright’s most inspired complex of buildings and appreciate the prime minister of organic architecture’s design concepts than on a college campus located between Disney World’s theme parks and the Everglades.
“It is a distinct privilege to be the conservator of this international architectural treasure. We are fortunate to work and learn in a living, breathing museum, and we are committed to preserving Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpieces for future generations of faculty, staff, students, and visitors to enjoy,” stated Dr. Anne Kerr, president of Florida Southern College.
Yet, whatever the lakeside campus’ aesthetic magnitude, it has never garnered the same level of regard as Wright’s more iconic commissions, such as Fallingwater or the Guggenheim Museum. If you missed Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward, the recent exhibition at the Guggenheim, or can never get enough of the Wright stuff, here are some of my impressions of Florida Southern's architectural gems, photographed at different stages during the ongoing restoration, accompanied by historic images from the State Archives of Florida and Florida Southern College, including glimpses of the Wisconsin wizard during his campus inspection visits.
|Recent restoration work has enhanced Wright’s original designs while plans for new buildings inspired by the architect’s principles insure that Wright's legacy will be preserved. As well as the college's ongoing $50 million restoration program, this summer it announced plans to build a Wright-designed Usonian house that will serve as a Visitor Center. The county's board of commissioners committed $1 million, and having received the Taliesin Foundation's approval, the college is still in need of $1 million for the project.
"Florida Southern College may never be more than a freshwater college among the big institutions of the country, but its architecture will cause it to become a beacon of light." — Frank Lloyd Wright, 1949, during a speech at Pfeiffer Chapel.
|Mr. Wright strolling the campus with his cane but without his cape. Frank Lloyd Wright spent the last two decades of his life overseeing the largest single-site collection of his designs.|
|“… out of the ground, into the light and into the sun." — Frank Lloyd Wright describing Florida Southern College.|
|Once an agreement was reached, Wright would send blueprints without specifications for each building, accompanied by one of his students, who then drafted construction drawings at the site. After the first building came in over budget, students traded their thinking caps for hard hats and became the college’s construction workers. During the war years, campus construction slowed, as manpower and material shortages resulted in more student labor, who, following Wright’s formula, were even recruited to mold and cast the distinctive three-foot concrete building blocks known as "textile blocks."
|After the Pfeiffer Chapel and the three seminar buildings were finished, the circular E. T. Roux Library was built in 1942. Following, came the Water Dome and the Esplanades, angled covered walkways to connect the existing buildings. Supported by piers shaped like the orange trees the campus supplanted on its site, the esplanades eventually formed a quadrangle, linking the administration buildings, three seminar units and the chapel.
The last Wright-designed buildings were the structurally subdued Danforth Chapel and the elaborate Polk County Science Building, what Wright termed his center for cosmology. Among Wright’s planned but unrealized buildings were an arts & crafts building, faculty and student dormitories, and the Whitney Building, a theatre/music building designed in 1944 as a memorial for Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney.
|"When building is completed, the United States will have at least one example of the cultural value of organic buildings well suited to time, purpose and place." — Architectural Forum, January 1948.|
|Speaking at last month's formal dedication of Nicholas Hall, the college's second residence hall, Robert A. M. Stern, dean of the Yale School of Architecture, remarked on Florida Southern College's continuing efforts to preserve its Frank Lloyd Wright campus, "They are looking back and going forward at the same time, which is a remarkable journey for any group of people at an institution. It's a great privilege for me to have been asked to shoulder some of the responsibility of that journey," Stern said. Now under construction, the Dr. Marcene and Robert Christoverson Humanities Building, also designed by Stern, is scheduled to open next year.|
|If you go:
Florida Southern College
111 Lake Hollingsworth Drive
Lakeland, Florida, 33801-5698
Visitor Center and Esplanade Gift Shop: Monday - Friday 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. Self-guided walking tours: Available at all times: Tour maps located at the directional sign under the esplanades at Parking Lot VB. Water Dome: Monday through Sunday, 10:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
|Photographs by Augustus Mayhew. Historic images courtesy of the State of Florida Archives and Florida Southern College.|