The lushly landscaped campus of Florida Southern College, already home to a half-dozen Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired “cat cafes”
for the school’s sizable population of feral felines, is now the site of a newly built Usonian home originally designed by the internationally celebrated overlord of organic architecture back in 1939.
While a small handful of Wright-designed buildings — and doghouses
— have been constructed posthumously in the years following Wright's death in 1959, Florida Southern’s Usonian House at the Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center
is unique in that it’s one of the only Usonian-style
homes — Wright’s Depression-era vision of modestly-sized, flat-roofed dwellings geared for middle-class suburban homeowners who didn’t mind forgoing basements, attics, or garages — to be realized after the architect’s passing and the only Wright house to be built since the late 1960s for its original client on its original site.
In total, roughly 60 homes built in the pared-down Usonian style were completed during Wright's lifetime. Wright originally planned to erect a total of 20 Usonian homes, distinguishing carports and all, on the FSC campus as faculty housing. However, those plans never came to fruition due to funding issues.
While it took more than 70 years for the institution east of Tampa to finally get one Usonian house, the school’s Lakeland campus is famous for already being lousy with non-residential, Wright-designed structures including various academic buildings, a pair of chapels, a library, administrative offices, and a striking fountain. In fact, Child of the Sun, a National Historic Landmark District within the FSC campus, boasts the world’s largest single-site collection of Wright-designed buildings.
There are currently 12 Wright-designed buildings on the Florida Southern campus, all completed between 1938 and 1958. The new 1,700-square-foot home built in typical Usonian Automatic
style with 2,000 interlocking concrete "textile blocks" with colored glass inserts and handcrafted reproduction furniture, will be the 13th. Leftover blocks from the construction of the new museum/tourism center, a project overseen by Albany, N.Y.-based architect and Wright devotee M. Jeffrey Baker using Wright's original blueprints, were used to create the aforementioned homeless kitty hang-outs.
"We are thrilled with the completed Usonian House, and I think Frank Lloyd Wright would be pleased to know that this brilliant 1939 design has finally been built,” proclaimed Florida Southern College President Anne Kerr at a media event leading up to week’s public unveiling of the new building. Well, he better be pleased as a life-sized bronze replica of the architect, donning his signature pork pie hat and walking cane, was just installed in the front lawn of the Usonian House.
And Kerr is counting on Wright to help bring in those crucial tourism dollars to the region: "I think our community will see a notable increase in tourism, which will be a major economic advantage," she tells The Ledger
. "Frank Lloyd Wright is not only a part of Florida Southern's history, but also a part of America's great history, and the Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center is a wonderful tribute to his legacy on our campus and his impact around the world.”
A huge congrats to Baker and the entire FSC community on the notable new/old addition to an already notable campus. Given that building codes and methods have changed quite a bit since Wright’s heyday, I’m guessing that realizing the Usonian House decades after it was meant to be built proved to be quite the challenge.
I also highly recommend checking out Wright-obsessed Lakeland resident Mike Maguire’s blog, Building the Usonian House
, which documents, step by step, block by block, the entire building process of the structure — the nuts and bolts that I won't go into here. Maguire tells the Ledger: "It is just so dazzling. It has to be sort of breathtaking when people who haven't watched it go up on a daily basis finally drive by and to see that for the first time. They will gasp.” He adds: "No one could possibly have imagined what a special, beautiful building it would be. It's a jewel."
And on the topic of “special, beautiful buildings,” this past weekend I visited, for the first time, one of my top bucket list destinations
: Wright’s Fallingwater. Since words don't fully do justice to the former country retreat owned by Pittsburgh department store magnate Edgar Kauffman Sr. and his family (Kauffman's son turned the home over to the care of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in 1963), here’s a photo I snapped while on the property which, by the way, was completed in 1939 — the same year that Wright designed the just-completed Usonian house at Florida Southern College.
Photo: Matt Hickman
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