How exciting is it to learn that the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings is located in Lakeland, Florida at Florida Southern College. I was hosted on the in-depth tour while traveling south this past February. There I learned that Frank Lloyd Wright called his collection “Child of the Sun” in reference to buildings rising out of the ground.
In 1938 Dr. Ludd Spivey, President of Florida Southern College contacted Frank Lloyd Wright about expanding the campus. He wished to create a truly American campus unlike any other campus at the time. This blog is only going to focus on two of those buildings, the beautiful chapels he built on this Methodist college as part of the “Child of the Sun” tour.
There is much more to see, but I fell in love with these two beautiful buildings and want to shine the light on them from my in-depth tour!
From 1939 until 1958, over a 20-year period Frank Lloyd Wright designed 18 buildings. Twelve were built during his lifetime. He was 70 when he started this endeavor. The last, the 13th building was built in 2013. This was the Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center featuring Wright’s Usonian House. This complete collection the college shares is, “the largest and most fully articulated collection of Wright’s work in the world.”
The Annie Pfeiffer Chapel
Dr. Spivey was a Methodist Minister, and this is a Methodist college. The very first building that Dr. Spivey wanted constructed onsite was the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel.
The brochure Frank Lloyd Wright’s Child of the Sun”, describes the beautiful chapel, “…considered by many to be a true paradigm of Wright’s work in that it exhibits all his trademark architectural elements. The cantilevered wings give the impression the building is floating above ground. A figurative rendering of the “bowtie” design in the chapel’s tower is used as the college’s trademark symbol.”
While this is a Methodist University, this chapel is designed to be non-denominational so that many religions can worship peacefully together. There are no religious symbols in it. Our tour guide Paul said, “This is the first modernist home of worship in America.”
The building was completed in 1941 and has Moorish, Japanese and Seminole influences. There are 50,000 pieces of glass in the design. “Mr. Wright was about nature,” Paul said. “This building is nicknamed the Jewelry Box.”
It is easy to see why they call it the jewelry box when the light comes flowing into the building!
The William H. Danforth Chapel
The second chapel Wright built on site is more traditional with the focus an amazing leaded art glass front and center. The small chapel is framed in native Florida tidewater red-cypress and was designed by Wright and built by industrial arts and home economics classes. It still contains the original pews and cushions. The chapel was designed in 1936 and built in 1955. All the buildings would be built as funding allowed.
This chapel is much cozier than the larger Annie Pfeiffer Chapel and our guide shared that it was built to fit the more traditional students. It was funny that he said that Wright built a section an office for the chaplain that he never spent much time in because it was so small. That compression and expansion technique that Wright used to get Wright to spend time with people worked too well.
Still in Use
While we were not to go into the balcony areas in either chapel for safety sake (although students still do) the chapels are used on a regular basis as are the other buildings that Frank Lloyd Wright built on the campus. The buildings and the beautiful Esplanade walkways that are over a mile long, and the amazing water dome, the largest water structure Wright ever built, make this campus a one of a kind Wright design.
Wright was raised in the Unitarian church and I would love to see his church he built in Oak Forest. I am told it is absolutely amazing!
While our guide said nature was really his religion, I could feel the power of God’s love in these chapels. The eyes are drawn upward towards the heavens and the beauty if irrefutable.
If you love Wright architecture, these buildings and the chapels included in the tours are for you.
The Florida Southern College Geico Visitor’s Center is located at 750 Frank Lloyd Wright Way, Lakeland, Florida, 33801-5698. Call 863-680-4597 or log onto https://www.flsouthern.edu/visitors/frank-lloyd-wright/home.aspx. o