"Buildings, too, are children of Earth and Sun."
Recently, a 9 year old and 14 year old I know informed me that about 3 hours south of where we live is one of the largest collections of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in the world.
Well, that was a surprise!
I had no idea that Florida Southern College, in Lakeland, FL, even existed and even less of an idea that it was in large part designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright himself!
This was exciting news because I, of course, learned about Wright and the Fallingwater house back in art history class, but I never thought I would be able to see his work in person. So we, of course, planned a day trip down to take a tour!
At 70 years old, wright spent his final 20 years working on the Florida Southern College campus. He designed a total of 18 buildings, 12 of which were built between 1938-1958 under the eye of Wright himself.
This makes the campus the home of Wright's only planetarium, as well as the largest and most fully articulated collection of Wright's work on Earth!
Wright on Nature
"Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature, it will never fail you."
Wright's "Child of the Sun"
Architects influenced by Wright:
The Cutler Anderson Architects
Wright's goal was that his work be democratic architecture for the people, that pays homage to: the natural landscape within which the buildings reside and to the people and community who use the architecture and designs.
Wright felt that one can't live their life entirely on borrowed ideas, knowledge, and culture. So he looked to nature as a symbol of the potential newness and democratic living in society.
"Architecture doesn't need language to communicate; it can be enjoyed by all."
Natural materials were used in harmony with the nature in the existing landscape.
This is obvious in his works that incorporate existing boulders and streams, like Fallingwater or Taliesin West, but how do seemingly concrete buildings in Florida integrate with the natural landscape?
The Annie Pfeiffer Chapel, "Origami in concrete" - a paradigm of Wright's work.
Wright's goal was that all his work be democratic architecture for the people, that pays homage to: the natural landscape within which the buildings reside, and to the people and communities who use the architecture and designs.
When he was approached in 1938 by the college's then president, Dr. Spivey, about the endeavor of building a new campus, Wright toured the site which was a rolling hill of magnolia trees and orange groves bordering Lake Hollingsworth.
Wright said of the space, that he envisioned the buildings rising "out of the ground and into the light, a child of the sun."
In keeping with his theme of local materials and integrated community, the campus buildings are constructed from local cypress and the original concrete block was even mixed from local Florida beach sand.
These concrete blocks were very innovative at the time because they were hollow, with 4 inch thick walls interspersed with solid color glass cubes. They weren't designed to be structural, but instead were designed to work as insulation to keep the structures cool in the hot Florida sun.
Wright was fond of the concept of the people building their own architecture in ways that allowed the structures and humans to link to the natural and built landscapes.
Wright's signature iron oxide color scheme and his geometric patterns were influenced by Meso-American aesthetics, while his ethics of architectural design were influenced by Native American principles of living and building in harmony with nature.
Plus, the actual college students - male and female - were the ones who cleared the land, prepared the local cypress wood beams, mixed the concrete, built the buildings, landscaped, and even crafted and sewed the interior furnishings! It was a "learn by doing" model of education. The hard work taught students life skills of building, art, and design + paid for their tuition too!
How very Montessori!
Wright looked to nature as a symbol of potential newness and democratic living in society.
Wright didn't think air conditioning was healthy for human respiration, so, along with the block insulation, he designed skylights and cross breezes into all the buildings. And all the windows open! In this vein of healthy environments, Wright designed the campus to encourage the social importance of human society.
He used compression designed hallways and breezeways that opened up into expansive communal gathering areas, both indoors and out.
The design creates "a staccato of light."
The views down the Esplanades are perhaps my favorite views. The feeling of a cozy cloister when you are within them, and then the expansive release of the nature just outside them in the courtyards is really nice - although it doesn't really transfer to film.
One aspect of the attention Wright paid to the local environment I especially loved was that these pillars on the Esplanades were designed as a wink to the citrus trees that filled the grassy courtyards at the time (which now unfortunately have succumbed to citrus greening disease).
Each of the pillars is the exact height and width of a citrus tree and each is spaced the exact distance that the trees in citrus groves are spaced.
Imagine how glorious it was when the groves were in bloom and the euphoric scent of orange blossoms wafted through the Esplanade on the spring breeze. Picture students plucking an orange off the tree and walking to class through these covered walkways.
This is the largest water feature Wright ever designed. A central feature on the campus, the fountain symbolizes the fountain of knowledge. In 1948, when it was built, the technology to create a water dome fountain didn't exist.
It wasn't until 2007, when the pool was restored that high pressure nozzles were added to create the dome Wright envisioned. It runs at intervals each day, but since it was storming the day I visited, it wasn't running.
This modern model home, designed in 1939, was intended to be duplicated as housing for the college's faculty. The vision wasn't realized until 2013.
It's constructed of nearly 2000 interlocking concrete "textile" blocks and almost 6000 pieces of hand placed colored glass.
If you find yourself near Orlando or Tampa Florida, I highly recommend booking the tour at Florida Southern College to discover all the wonders of Wright's "Child of the Sun" architectural vision.
And when visit any Frank Lloyd Wright architectural design, Wright encourages us to keep our eyes open and senses aware while within. He wants us to
...question our own perceptions and experiences, and to consider how we each can contribute to a greater truth of beauty for a richer life.
And that is a beautiful vision!
Ever visited (or wished to visit) any Frank Lloyd Wright architectural masterpiece?
Share which in the comments below!
Share photos of nature inspired design (like the concrete orange tree pillars) on Instagram #wingswormsandwonder so we can be inspired too!
Seeds to Sprout:
Studio Visit with Gary Mahan
Meet a living architect and watercolor painter, Gary Mahan! He was inspired by Wright in his career, and also happens to be related to me!
Candied Citrus Peels
In honor of those citrus tree inspired pillars, let's make candied citrus peels in this Wonder Wednesday 87 project!