The Wright Stuff

By Robert Plunket December 24, 2008

From Sarasota, it’s an easy trip to see the amazing architecture at Florida Southern College.


By Robert Plunket

Click here to see our Real Estate Junkie discuss local Frank Lloyd Wright architecture on TV.

If you have friends and relatives visiting this week, or just have a little time off for yourself, here’s a great day trip you might want to consider: the quick, one-hour drive over to Lakeland to check out the amazing Frank Lloyd Wright architecture at Florida Southern College.


Florida Southern was a small Methodist college led by an educational pioneer named Ludd Spivey. Back in the 1930s he got the idea of having America’s greatest architect design a new campus in the orange groves overlooking Lake Hollingsworth. Wright consented, and over the next 20 years he designed a grouping of 10 or so buildings: two chapels, a library, a science center, several administration buildings, etc. It is the only grouping of buildings the master ever designed, and they are all linked by several miles of covered esplanades (which are, by the way, so low-ceilinged the basketball team scrape their heads when they walk along them.)


What makes the campus so much fun to visit is the enormous variety of Wrightian styles and references. The library is round, the chapels have soaring wings and complex interiors, and the Fine Building really is fine. Most of the building use Wright’s famous custom-designed concrete blocks, which the scholarship students made themselves to help pay their tuition.


My favorite touch – the colored glass set into the chapel walls that make the interior glow in the afternoon light. The biggest surprise – the buildings are much smaller than they photograph. This gives the campus an intimate scale. And the 1930’s “futuristic” style often gives the impression of an old Buck Rogers movie.


For all its architectural importance, Florida Southern is not really the major tourist attraction it should be. It’s one of the undiscovered gems of our area. Keep in mind that it is first and foremost a working college campus, but to see it in this context only makes it more interesting. There is a visitors’ center and guided tours are offered. I like to just wander around and take it all in, but remember that not all the buildings are open all the time.


Oh, and try and sit down in one of the Wright-designed chairs. He may have been a great architect but he had a lot to learn about comfortable seating.


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