November 21, 2014

Architecture

Wright's Stuff

Anne Kerr is trying to restore the biggest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the world -- keeping them as working parts of a college and not museum pieces.

Amy Keller | 10/1/2007
In a hot, dusty maintenance yard at Florida Southern College, Ken Uracius and two apprentices are pounding sand. Uracius, a New England mason who specializes in historic preservation, watches as his interns pack a grainy concrete mixture into a wooden frame and hammer it down hard with a pneumatic tool. Then they clamp another piece of wood tightly across the top and lift the wooden box onto a pallet. Gingerly, they remove the frame to reveal an
architectural casting that looks like a square sand castle — and for the moment is just as fragile.

Builders are using the legendary architect's original method to restore his creations that are now crumbling. See how it's done.

View from inside the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel, Florida Southern College [Photo: Steve Widoff]
Browse more photos of Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings in a photo tour of Florida Southern College.

Over the next 24 hours, if Uracius’ workers have gotten the mixture right, the casting will suck moisture out of the humid Florida air and harden. In the process, the delicate sand structure will transform into an exact replica of the building blocks that Frank Lloyd Wright created in building 12 structures on Florida Southern’s Lakeland campus between 1939 and 1958. This particular block will replace a crumbling piece of one of the Seminars, one-story combination classroom and office buildings completed in 1941.

Wright left the small private liberal arts college with the largest single-site collection of his structures in the world. But the iconic American architect’s unusual engineering and experimental materials like textile blocks — precast concrete blocks with hollow edges that create cavities for steel reinforcing rods — haven’t fared well in Florida’s climate. Six decades later, much of his legacy is in poor condition. Squirrels zip in and out of buildings through crumbling textile block walls. Moisture seeping in through the porous surfaces has rusted the rebar. Workers recently had to repair sections of the Esplanades — a series of low-hanging, covered walkways — that had tilted precariously, unbalanced by the gradual shifting of the ground.


AUTHENTICITY: Florida Southern President Anne Kerr had a hard time convincing the World Monument Fund that Frank Lloyd Wright actually designed the buildings on the school’s campus in Lakeland. “You don’t have a Frank Lloyd campus,” she says a man there told her. “What you have is somebody who’s used Frank Lloyd Wright’s look.” [Photo: Steve Widoff]
“In Florida, there’s no way it could have stood the test of time, but during his era there was no research for him to know that it wouldn’t,” says Anne Kerr, Florida Southern’s president since 2004.

Restoring Wright’s handiwork will cost about $50 million. Kerr has to raise that money and manage the process so that it doesn’t end with the college owning a collection of valuable but impractical museum pieces. “At the end of the day,” she says, “they have to be workable for our students and faculty.”

Tags: North Central, Education, Housing/Construction

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