Florida Southern College has built a house that Frank Lloyd Wright designed as one of a series of faculty homes. (Florida Southern College photos)
More than 70 years ago, in the midst of designing a series of striking structures for Florida Southern College—a library, an administration complex, classroom buildings, chapels, covered walkways, a large fountain—Frank Lloyd Wright also planned some modest but handsome houses for the college’s faculty members. None of the houses got built, however, until now.
This fall the college is celebrating the completion of one of the Wright homes—a 1,700-square-foot, two-bedroom house built of custom-made concrete blocks inset with squares of colored glass. The house is one of a number of what Wright called “Usonian” designs, which he hoped would bring good architecture to Americans of average means.
Along with a renovated bungalow next door, the new house will serve as a visitors center for the college, which attracts thousands of tourists every year who are eager to see the world’s largest collection of Wright buildings. The architect was first invited to visit the college in 1938 by its president, Ludd M. Spivey, who hoped Wright could help him raise Florida Southern’s profile, and Wright continued building there almost until his death, in 1959. The new house brings the number of Wright buildings at Florida Southern to 13.
M. Jeffrey Baker, a partner in Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker Architects who has helped the college repair its other Wright buildings, oversaw the construction project. He was also instrumental in tweaking Wright’s original plans to meet current construction codes and to avoid some of the maintenance problems that have dogged Wright’s older buildings on the campus.
The biggest modernization, though, was almost certainly the project’s cost, which the college has declined to detail. But the undertaking has received a $1-million grant from Polk County, plus $500,000 from the City of Lakeland, and an undisclosed amount from a private donor. A Usonian house in a Virginia suburb of Washington that Wright built in 1939 for Loren Pope, then a copy editor at the Washington Evening Star and later a well-known admissions counselor, went several hundred dollars over budget at $7,000.
Wright’s original plan for Florida Southern was that students could mix concrete and fill wooden molds to create the blocks from which the college’s buildings would be built, saving on construction costs. The new house, however, was put up by contractors. Michael Maguire, a Wright fan, has thoroughly documented the construction process on a blog.