Frank Lloyd Wright – Design Roots to Endangered Collection of Work (by Pat Shaerer)

Long curious about the architecture, which I personally find impractical for human usage but intriguing nonetheless, my personal epiphany about Wright’s architectural design comes from this excerpt from his A Testament, 1957 – Wright’s father was a preacher; his mother was a teacher “who loved teaching…Mother learned that Frederick Froebel (1782-1852, German educator who created the Kindergarten or children’s garden) taught that children should not be allowed to draw from casual appearances of Nature until they had first mastered the basic forms lying hidden behind appearances. Cosmic, geometric elements were what should first be made visible to the child-mind. Taken East at the age of three to my father’s pastorate near Boston, I sat at the little kindergarten table top ruled by lines about four inches apart each way making four-inch squares; and, among other things, played upon the ‘unit-lines’ with the square (cube), the circle(sphere) and the triangle (tetrahedron or tripod)-these were smooth maple-wood blocks. Scarlet cardboard triangle (60°-30°) two inches on the short side, and one side white, were smooth triangular sections with which to come by pattern –design– by my own imagination. Eventually I was to construct designs in other mediums. But the smooth cardboard triangles and maple-wood blocks were most important. All are in my fingers to this day.” Furthermore basic shapes were symbols – square=integrity; circle=infinity; and triangle=aspiration; “all with which to ‘design’ significant new forms.”

To learn more about the design philosophy and work of Frank Lloyd Wright in his own words, I recommend Frank Lloyd Wright: Writings and Buildings, selected by Edgar Kaufmann and Ben Raebur, Horizon Press, Inc., 1960.

This brings up something not generally known about Wright – a singularly notable project, the Florida Southern College, Lakeland, FL, campus contains the only group of academically oriented designs by the architect. A few weeks ago, the World Monuments Fund named the buildings to the list of 100 sites worldwide most worthy of preservation and restoration.

This story begins in 1938–



And so it began, the first contact between Florida Southern College and Frank Lloyd Wright. It was a trip to Europe by then college president Dr. Ludd Spivey and the viewing of a war memorial that inspired the educator to return to the U.S. with the vision of constructing a campus in the orange groves. Even more inspiring to him was the autobiography of Frank Lloyd Wright. When Dr. Spivey flew to Taliesin at Spring Green, he approached Wright with his dream saying, “I have no money with which to build the modern American campus, but if you’ll design the buildings, I’ll work night and day to raise the means.”

Wright was 67 years of age upon his first visit to Lakeland. As he toured the orange grove area he envisioned the buildings rising “out of the ground, into the light and into the sun.”

His master plan called for 18 buildings using the following basic materials: steel for strength; sand because it was native to Florida; and glass to bring God’s outdoors into man’s indoors. The first ground breaking ceremony was held May 24, 1938 for the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel. Dedication of the building took place March 9, 1941.

Following the completion of the Chapel, the three seminar units were built.

As word got out about Wright’s creations, more and more people visited the campus to see his work. In 1942, ground was broken for the circular E.T. Roux Library, but steel and manpower shortages slowed the construction. These first buildings (Annie Pfeiffer Chapel, The Seminar Buildings, and the E.T. Roux Library) were built with student labor. Dr. Spivey arranged with the students that their tuition could be paid with manual assistance in the construction of the buildings. Dedication for the Roux Library was held in 1945.

Next up were the Emile E. Watson- Benjamin Fine Administration Buildings, the first to be built by an outside construction firm, followed by the J. Edgar Wall Waterdome in 1948. The construction of the 1.5 miles of esplanades began at the same time the first phase connecting the library and the administration building.

The Ordway Arts Building was next to be constructed and the esplanades were extended from the seminars to the Ordway Building and then back to the chapel, forming the quadrangle.

Danforth Chapel went up in the shadow of Annie Pfeiffer Chapel as the foundations were laid for the Polk County Science Building.

Wright visited the campus often during his twenty years of work at Florida Southern. Lakeland residents would turn out to see him in his preferred attire which often included a flowing cape, beret or pork pie hat, and carrying his walking stick, but few would engage him in conversation.

From the Florida Southern College website and to view the phtotos of the buildings, go to –

Now to June 2007. The Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings on the Florida Southern College campus are included on the World Monument Fund’s list of 100 most endangered sites in the world. The College has the world’s largest single-site collection of Wright’s buildings and is the only college campus designed by the master architect.

“We are honored to have been included on the 2008 Watch List,” said Florida Southern College president Dr. Anne Kerr. “Selection to this distinguished body of architecturally significant sites will draw worldwide attention to the outstanding Frank Lloyd Wright legacy at Florida Southern, and it will provide a powerful endorsement of our efforts to secure funding to restore this unique world treasure.”

The World Monuments Fund chooses sites based on historical or cultural significance, urgency of the threat, and viability of a sustainable solution. All 12 Wright structures are in need of restoration, and their inclusion on the Watch List designates the structures as worthy of preservation. Other sites on the 2008 list include Peru’s Machu Picchu; Shanghai’s modern architecture from the 1920s to the 1940s; areas of New Orleans already devastated by Hurricane Katrina and threatened by rising seas; and sites along U.S. Route 66, once the main thoroughfare to the West. The World Monuments Fund has included other world renowned sites such as the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, Ellis Island, and the Panama Canal on past Watch Lists.

The Getty Foundation recently granted $500,000 towards the $1.5M restoration of the 1.5 miles of esplanades. This is a new beginning for FSC and its FLW buildings.

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