Highlights of Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture at Florida Southern College

Esplanade to Pfeiffer Chapel
Esplanade Leads to Pfeiffer Chapel at Florida Southern College.

Jackie Craven

American architect Frank Lloyd Wright was 67 years old when he went to Lakeland, Florida to plan the campus that would become Florida Southern College. Envisioning buildings rising "out of the ground, and into the light, a child of the sun," Frank Lloyd Wright created a master plan that would combine glass, steel, and native Florida sand.

Over the next twenty years, Frank Lloyd Wright visited the campus often to guide the ongoing construction. Florida Southern College now has the world's largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings on a single site.

Annie M. Pfeiffer Chapel by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1941

Annie M. Pfeiffer Chapel by Frank Lloyd Wrigh

Jackie Craven

The buildings have not weathered well, and in 2007 the World Monuments Fund included the campus in its listing of endangered sites. Extensive restoration projects are now underway to save Frank Lloyd Wright's work at Florida Southern College.

Frank Lloyd Wright's first building at Florida Southern College is studded with colored glass and topped with a wrought iron tower.

Constructed with student labor, the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel is a landmark building at Florida Southern College. The wrought iron tower has been called a "bow-tie" and a "bicycle rack in the sky." Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker (MCWB) Architects of Albany, N.Y. and Williamsburg, Virginia restored parts of the chapel and many other buildings on campus.

The Seminar, 1941

Seminar Buildings

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Skylights and colored glass bring light into offices and classrooms.

Constructed of foot-long concrete blocks with inlaid colored glass, the Seminar was originally three separate structures with courtyards in between — Seminar Building I, the Cora Carter Seminar Building; Seminar Building II, the Isabel Waldbridge Seminar Building; Seminar Building III, the Charles W. Hawkins Seminar Building.

The Seminar buildings were constructed mainly by students and have crumbled over time. New concrete blocks are being cast to replace those that have deteriorated.

Esplanades, 1939-1958

Esplanades at Florida Southern

Jackie Craven

A mile and a half of covered walkways, or esplanades wind through the campus at Florida Southern College.

Constructed mainly of concrete block with angled columns and low ceilings, the esplanades have not weathered well. In 2006, architects surveyed over a mile of the deteriorating concrete walkways. Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker (MCWB) Architects did much of the restoration work.

Esplanade Ironwork Grill

Esplanade Ironwork Grill

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Over a mile of covered walkways allow students to be sheltered from class to class and enlightened by the geometry of Frank Lloyd Wright designs.

Thad Buckner Building, 1945

circular, stone building with clerestory windows

Jackie Craven

The Thad Buckner Building was originally the E. T. Roux Library. The reading room on the semi-circular terrace still has the original built-in desks.

The building, now used as a lecture hall with administrative offices, was constructed during World War II when steel and manpower were in short supply. The college president, Dr. Spivey, offered students tuition waivers in return for manual labor so that the building, which was then the college library, could be completed.

The Thad Buckner Building has many hallmarks of Frank Lloyd Wright design — clerestory windows; fireplaces; concrete block construction; hemicycle shapes; and Mayan-inspired geometric patterns.

Watson/Fine Administration Buildings, 1948

Watson/Fine Administration Buildings

Jackie Craven

The Emile E. Watson - Benjamin Fine Administration Buildings feature copper-lined ceilings and a couryard pool.

Unlike other buildings at Florida Southern College, the Watson/Fine Administration Buildings were constructed by an outside company, instead of using student labor. A series of esplanades, or walkways, connects the buildings.

This type of architecture can't mean much to you until you have had a good look at yourself. This architecture represents the laws of harmony and rhythm. It's organic architecture and we have seen little of it so far. It's like a little green shoot growing in a concrete pavement. — Frank Lloyd Wright, 1950, at Florida Southern College

Water Dome, 1948 (Rebuilt in 2007)

Restored Water Dome

Jackie Craven

When he designed Florida Southern College, Frank Lloyd Wright envisioned a large circular pool with fountains forming a dome of cascading water. It was to be a literal dome made from water. The single large pool, however, proved difficult to maintain. The original fountains were dismantled in the 1960s. The pool was divided into three smaller ponds and a concrete plaza.

A massive restoration effort recreated Frank Lloyd Wright's vision. Architect Jeff Baker of Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker (MCWB) Architects followed Wright's plans to build a single pool with 45-foot-tall jets of water. The restored Water Dome opened in October 2007 to much glee and excitement. Because of water pressure issues, the pool rarely displays at full water pressure, which is necessary to create the "dome" look.

Lucius Pond Ordway Building, 1952

Industrial Arts Building

Jackie Craven

The Lucius Pond Ordway Building was one of Frank Lloyd Wright's favorites at Florida Southern College. A relatively simple design with courtyards and fountains, the Lucius Pond Ordway Building has been compared to Taliesin West. The upper portion of the building is a series of triangles. Triangles also frame the concrete block columns.

The Lucius Pond Ordway Building was designed as a dining hall, but it became the industrial arts center. The building is now an arts center with a student lounge and a theater-in-the-round.

William H. Danforth Chapel, 1955

William H. Danforth Chapel

Jackie Craven

Frank Lloyd Wright used native Florida tidewater red cypress for the William H. Danforth Chapel.

Students in industrial arts and home economics classes at Florida Southern College built the William H. Danforth Chapel according to plans by Frank Lloyd Wright. Often called a "miniature cathedral," the chapel has tall leaded glass windows. The original pews and cushions are still intact.

The Danforth Chapel is non-denominational, so a Christian cross was not planned for. Workers installed one anyway. In protest, a student sawed off the cross before Danforth Chapel was dedicated. The cross was later restored, but in 1990, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit. By court order, the cross was removed and placed in storage.

Leaded Glass at the William H. Danforth Chapel, 1955

Stained Glass at the William H. Danforth Chapel

Jackie Craven

A wall of leaded glass illuminates the pulpit at the William H. Danforth Chapel. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and constructed by students, the William H. Danforth Chapel features a tall, pointed window of leaded glass.

Polk County Science Building, 1958

Polk County Science Building

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The Polk County Science Building features the world's only completed planetarium designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Polk County Science Building was the last structure Wright designed for Florida Southern College, and it cost more than a million dollars to build. Extending from the planetarium building is a long esplanade with aluminum columns.

Polk County Science Building Esplanade, 1958

Polk County Science Building Esplanade

Jackie Craven

Frank Lloyd Wright pioneered the use of aluminum for decorative purposes when he designed the walkway at the Polk County Science Building. Even the columns along the building's esplanade are made of aluminum.

Innovations such as these make Florida Southern College a true school of America — designed by a true American architect. Without imitating the ivy-covered halls seen in northern schools modeled after European campuses, this small campus in Lakeland, Florida is not only a fine example of American architecture, but it's also a wonderful introduction to Frank Lloyd Wright architecture.

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Craven, Jackie. "Highlights of Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture at Florida Southern College." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/florida-southern-college-in-lakeland-4065274. Craven, Jackie. (2020, August 27). Highlights of Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture at Florida Southern College. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/florida-southern-college-in-lakeland-4065274 Craven, Jackie. "Highlights of Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture at Florida Southern College." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/florida-southern-college-in-lakeland-4065274 (accessed June 9, 2023).