April 26, 2018


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


Wright had already made a name for himself by 1938, when he received a telegram from then-FSC President Ludd Spivey. Undaunted by Wright’s reputation, Spivey fearlessly asked the architect to consider building a “great education temple” on 100 acres of orange groves in Florida. Wright, legendary for both his ego and his talent, wasn’t put off by Spivey’s audacity, sensing a kindred spirit in the charismatic, ambitious college president with grandiose plans. The architect accepted the challenge to build the “first uniquely American campus.” “I think he wanted to leave behind a legacy for himself,” says James Rogers, chairman of Florida Southern’s department of art and art history.

"I don’t see how we can consider ourselves as civilized, cultured people if we live ignorant of the nature of our
environment; if we do not understand what we do to make it. Where the buildings that we live in are false, where they do not represent truth and beauty in any sense, where they are merely stupid or merely copying something that’s not understood, we have no true culture."

— Frank Lloyd Wright, founders week address at Florida Southern College, March 3, 1950

Wright, then 70, visited Lakeland. For $13,000, he drew up plans for 18 structures, including a chapel, library, classrooms and a planetarium. As a focal point for the campus, Wright envisioned a giant circular pool ringed with jets that would spray water 75 feet into the air, forming a hemispherical dome of water nearly 160 feet in diameter. The “Water Dome” would symbolize the fountain of knowledge, the journey of the students attending Florida Southern. Meanwhile, to shield students from the oppressive sun and frequent summer rains, he connected his buildings with a mile and a half of covered walkways, which were cantilevered and supported by columns meant to represent abstract orange trees.

A leader in organic architecture — a design philosophy that involves blending structures into their surroundings and using natural materials whenever possible — Wright designed buildings of a modest height. The only tall structure on campus is the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel, a towering building that students have nicknamed the “bicycle rack in the sky” because of the intricate wrought iron work atop its skylights.

In the aftermath of the Great Depression, with money tight, Spivey enlisted students as construction workers on the buildings, offering them tuition in exchange for their labor. During World War II, female students finished the E.T. Roux Library on their own, using an elaborate system of pulleys to cart heavy loads of concrete up to the second floor. In 1958, 20 years after Wright began designing the campus, the Polk County Science Building was finished, the 12th and final Wright building to be constructed.

Tags: North Central, Education, Housing/Construction

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