Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Taste of the Wright Stuff

As a Floridian who has an interest in historic architecture, I'm embarrassed to say that until recently, I'd never seen the amazing collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. Mrs. Ephemera and I stopped by for a brief visit on a cloudy afternoon for what I hope will be a prelude to a longer, extended visit when the weather is better. Even on a gloomy day I could see how spectacular these spaces were and how much they need attention.

The story goes that after a trip to Europe, Florida Southern President Dr. Ludd Spivey was inspired to build a campus in the orange groves of Lakeland and he sought out Frank Lloyd Wright at Tallesin. Upon visiting the site at age 67, the master architect famously said that the buildings on the campus would rise "out of the ground, and into the light, a child of the sun." They broke ground on the first building, the Annie Pfieffer Chapel in 1938 and completed the last building, the Polk County Science Building in 1958. Today Florida Southern College is the largest collection of Wright designed buildings located on a single site, anywhere in the world.

Top: Frank Lloyd Wright on the Florida Southern Campus. Bottom: Wright and associate Nils Schweizer, who later opened an architecture practice in Central Florida. State Archives of Florida

On the day we were exploring the campus, we were fortunate enough to gain entry into the Pfeiffer Chapel, as I was told you couldn't properly appreciate the buildings without seeing them from the inside. Built with student labor, "Wright used colored pieces of glass to break the monotony of the blocks allowing natural light to enter," according to the college's website. Considered to be an excellent example of Wright's work, the space is expansive and intimate at the same time. The geometric details are fascinating, but it is the light coming through the colored glass block that is the most remarkable, turning any wall into a work of art.

Wright's work is notorious for being difficult to maintain, perhaps because his vision exceeded the engineering expertise of the time. And being exposed to the sub-tropical elements of Central Florida hasn't helped and it is apparent, even in our brief tour, that many of the buildings need considerable renovation. Fortunately work is underway, and the architecture, once named to the World Monument Fund's Most Endangered list, is slowly being restored. I look forward to more extensive explorations of the campus, when more of the buildings' original luster have been renewed and the sun is shining on Frank Lloyd Wright's "Child of the Sun.


  1. Breathtaking! Thanks for posting these, they remind me of a time when architecture made artistic (rather than functional) sense.

  2. Hi Rick,
    This is a fantastic post. I'm working on putting together some architectural commentary on colored glass for the World of Color Awards (www.worldofcolorawards.com), an international design competition focused on the use of colored glass in buildings. I'm wondering if you would consider allowing us to use an excerpt from your post or link to your post. We'd be happy to link to your blog and hopefully send some traffic your way. Let me know what you think - jennifer (at) ryan-pr.com