When thinking of a famous architect, the name that probably comes to mind is Frank Lloyd Wright, America’s most famous 20th century architect. Perhaps you’ve seen photos of the remarkable Fallingwater home in rural Pennsylvania or the iconic Guggenheim Museum in New York City. But here in our backyard is one of Wright’s greatest triumphs, a literal architecture museum disguised as a university campus: the beautifully designed grounds, chapels, offices and eye-popping buildings of the lovely Florida Southern College in Lakeland.
In 2012, the Florida Southern College Historic District was designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior for being the largest single-site collection of Wright architecture in the world. Daily tours take visitors through a mile-long covered esplanade artistically designed to replicate the orange grove that once covered the grounds, complete with tree trunks, leafy coverage and even individual oranges.
Our entertaining and informative tour guide had ready answers to our many questions and peppered interesting historical anecdotes throughout the tour. You will also get exclusive access to two beautiful chapels — the Annie Pfeiffer and Danforth chapels, as the college was once a Methodist seminary. The chapels were meticulously designed for beauty, modernity and efficiency, even incorporating unique Native American motifs.
Many buildings incorporate water features and individually hand-placed colorful glass pieces that capture bright Florida sunshine for beauty inside and out. At the campus center, check out the large reflecting pool, a rendering of the local lakes of ‘lake land.’ Wright designed fountain jets to shoot streams of water 45 feet high, replicating a domed collegiate building. This design in the early 20th century was over 60 years before the technology was available, a sign of Wright’s ingenuity.
The tour ends at the fascinating Usonian home, a 1,333-square-foot, full-scale example of a planned faculty home designed for professors at the college. Unfortunately, none were ever built, as money ran out and costs were too high.
Whether you are a novice or connoisseur of architecture, anyone can enjoy this tour. For more information, visit www.flsouthern.edu/frank-lloyd-wright/tours.aspx.