Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Frank Lloyd Wright's Florida Southern College

Florida is not really known for its schools.  Great universities, it seems are left to the Ivy Leagues such as Penn, Harvard, Columbia, etc or the California schools such as UCLA, Berkeley, Stanford or Caltech.  Of course, there are many other great universities in the US but one does not really associate them with Florida where beaches, sunshine, flamingos and Disney World seem to be the common currency.  Yet, Florida has a very fine school system in the University of Florida.  To ward off this limited view associated by Northeast coast intellectuals, some schools reached out to create great looking environments by hiring top notch architects.  Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) was enlisted in the 1930's to design for Florida Southern College.  The college has had various names over the years and different locations.  It finally moved to Lakeland in the 1920's where developed an amazingly beautiful campus. 

I had the fortune to go to graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania where as  students we were entrusted with great projects.  One of my earliest restoration projects involved designing a solution for the mistakes that had taken place in the landscape at Fallingwater in Millrun PA - the Holy Grail of FLW projects.  So you can imagine that when I moved to Florida I was quite excited by the prospect of seeing a great master project by this  great architect.  Well, it took a trip to see another project, but there was enough time in the day to spend rummaging about and inside these great buildings.  The campus in Lakeland is rather subtle and hard to find as most of the neighbors see it as just another school.  I suppose it is, but for those of us who have studied FLW we feel otherwise.  

The campus is quite grand although in need of restoration, as are all FLW projects.  This one has managed to survive as the materials are more suited to the tropics where freezing does not damage the stone or concrete blocks.

It is incredibly beautiful to see landscape and architecture so beautifully integrated.  Yet at the same time it is shocking to read some of the statistics of the university that seems to have produced so little by way of graduates in spite of its gilded cage.
The integration of plantings and paint colors are synonous with FLW.  Taliesin West outside of Phoenix, Arizona displays marvelous color, landscape and architectural ensembles.  These designs follow a typical pattern of reaching for the stars and adapting to the practical.  FLW was a man with a huge ego and talent.  Unfortunately few of his acolytes or students have managed to go reach his level of creativity and make a name for themselves.
The Annie Pfeiffer Chapel was the first project begun by FLW in 1938 and dedicated in 1941.  It was  restored in 2007.  FLW proceeded with numerous building projects that lasted until the 1960's with his wonderful  dome fountain crowning the variety of projects.
The Original Library


To avoid the Florida sun, the breezeways work like connectors spines to shelter the public.  A similar technique was used by FLW in Taliesin West for his own school of architecture

Of course during FLW times there were not ADA requirements.  In this picture you can see some of the ramps that have been added to transition between the levels connecting these wonderful esplanades.
Water Dome partially completed in 1949 and restored in 2007 to FLW plans
The present campus comprises some 64 building on roughly 100 acres.  It is the largest collection of FLW architecture on the planet.  The Princeton Review (of architecture) listed it as the most beautiful campus in America.  The campus is on the National Register of Historic Places.
It is great to see that Florida has not lost its great desire for fine architecture to influence the learning process.   This time, not far from Florida Southern College in Lakeland, the University of Florida is proposing a new Polytechnic campus designed by no other than Santiago Calatrava.  The project is reminiscent of what Thomas Jefferson designed for the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. I hope that the future does provides this community and State with such a marvelous vision for education as we are more in need than ever to provide stimulus to everyone that education is certainly the key to unlock dreams.  Happy Gardening!


  1. welcome back to the fray. Like the new blogs.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.