I live less than an hour away from Florida Southern College–the largest collection of Wright buildings in the world–and visited the Lakeland campus for the first time earlier this month.
Full disclosure: I think Frank Lloyd Wright is overrated. While I regard him as a visionary designer, I find his buildings to be impractical and not very functional. However, despite my disdain for Wright, I have been intrigued by Florida Southern’s recent efforts to restore the campus and wanted to see it firsthand.
When he received the Florida Southern master plan commission, FLW was amid a surprising late career revival thanks to his masterwork Fallingwater (1935). Known as “Child of the Sun,” Wright’s Florida Southern designs attracted attention within the architectural community, notably a young, Sarasota-based Paul Rudolph.
From 1938 to 1958, 12 of Wright’s 18 FSC designs came to fruition. Florida Southern has a brief history of the project on its website. There are also at least two books on the undertaking, one by Dale Allen Gyure and another by Randall M. MacDonald, Nora E. Galbraith, and James G. Rogers Jr. Florida Southern has a comprehensive collection of historic campus photographs here.
Like so many other Wright buildings, they haven’t stood up very well over time. Unsympathetic alterations have also taken their toll; from 1938 to 1958, the student body almost quintupled and design intent was overlooked when campus officials converted spaces.
But Wright enthusiasts have had reason to rejoice in recent years. Florida Southern demonstrated its commitment to its FLW designs when it restored the partially filled Waterdome to its original appearance in 2006. Also that year, the school received a grant from the J. Paul Getty Foundation to create a long-term maintenance plan for the Wright buildings. Then the World Monuments Fund placed them on the group’s 2008 watch list.
Today, Florida Southern hosts tours of the Wright campus, and the original Roux Library serves as the welcome center. Signs outside each Wright building proclaim the college’s promise to preserve.
Annie Phieffer Chapel (1941)
Danforth Chapel (1955)
Carter, Hawkins, Walbridge Seminar Buildings (1941)
E.T. Roux Library (1945)
Watson and Fine Administration Buildings (1948)
Ordway Building (1952)
Polk County Science Building (1958)