Esplanade detail of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed campus at Florida Southern College, in Lakeland. (Photos by C-M.)
One of the benefits of getting sent to Orlando on assignment is that it put me just an hour from Lakeland, the home of Florida Southern College, and the largest single-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the world (built 1938-58). As with most Wright structures, the story of their construction is as interesting as the buildings themselves. In this case, the tiny, Methodist institution got Wright’s designs built by relying on unpaid college students working off their tuition. Some of the structures have recently undergone a renovation (such as the esplanades, pictured above). Further restoration is in the works. These buildings, if you’re anywhere in Central Florida (they’re only 45 minutes from Tampa; 90 minutes from Sarasota), are definitely worth a visit.
Click on photos to see them large. Money shots after the jump.
Annie Pfeiffer Chapel Detail: the cement bricks at the building’s base were designed by Wright especially for the campus and were made with local sand and crushed coquina shells. (These same bricks also feature prominently in the administration and seminar buildings.) Unfortunately, because of their porous nature—and some highly unorthodox mortaring techniques—the bricks have not withstood the Central Florida climate very well. As with many of Wright’s technological innovations, restorers are gonna face an uphill battle on this one.
Some of Wright’s custom-designed blocks (there were several models used throughout the campus) are embedded with colored glass, which produce a remarkable stained glass effect when the afternoon sun shines directly through them.
Esplanade Detail: There are 1.5 miles of esplanades connecting the disparate Wright-designed structures that make up the heart of the old Florida Southern campus. The design of each support is an abstraction of a citrus tree, a tribute to the orange groves that once surrounded the campus. The roof on this, as with many Wright buildings, is low hanging. Good luck walking under here if you’re over six feet tall.
The interior of the old library, which still contains a lot of Wright’s original furnishings. Unfortunately, other parts of the building have been chopped up for offices. Behind the podium, on the other side, however, is an intact Wright-designed fireplace–he was a fan of the familial unity symbolized by the hearth–but a gesture which seems downright comical given the subtropical Florida weather.
Inside my favorite Wright building at Florida Southern: The Danforth Chapel, built in 1955, and (miraculously) still furnished with the Wright-designed, student-constructed plywood pews from that era. This has got to be one of the most restful buildings I’ve ever been in. I love the way the tree line, in the background, becomes part of the stained glass.
- NPR has a good story on the restoration work going on at the campus, along with an audio file of Wright giving a speech about architecture at Florida Southern.
- The campus recently restored the Water Dome, a Wright-designed fountain that (surprise) had never worked the way he intended. My photos of the Water Dome suck (it was cloudy when I saw it), but you can view a fine shot of it at PrairieMod.
- And, only in the dead-tree edition, read my story on the campus in the May/June issue of Florida Travel + Life.
- For great historic pix, pick up a copy of The Buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright at Florida Southern College.
- For information on visiting the campus, and a schedule of docent-guided tours, visit FSC’s website.
Posted by C-Monster.