In addition to a sizable colony of well cared for feral kitties, the beauteous Tampa-area campus of Florida Southern College is best known for being home to the world’s largest single-site collection of buildings designed by the 20th century’s preeminent rock star architect and scandal-maker, Frank Lloyd Wright.
While time has been mostly kind to the dozen Wright-designed structures (and this posthumously realized addition competed last year that's now home to a vistor center and gift shop) that comprise the architecturally significant enclave best known as the Child of the Sun National Historic Landmark District, the oldest and most iconic of the buildings, the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel, has admittedly seen better days.
Completed in 1941 as the very first Wright-designed building on campus, the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel was built (largely by the hands of students, apparently) using the architect’s signature “textile block” modular construction method that revolves around precast interlocking concrete blocks with lovely ornamental flourishes. In addition to the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel at FSC, Wright’s best known textile block buildings — he viewed the system as a way to bring greater appeal to the “gutter rat” known as the unadorned concrete block — include a quartet of private homes in and around Los Angeles including a Mayan Revival-style manse, the Ennis House, in Los Feliz.
Like the aforementioned homes, Wright’s textile block chapel on the campus of Florida Southern — the National Park Service describes the “spatially complex” structure with its iconic wrought-iron "bike rack" tower as being the “signature building” on campus — has experienced some deterioration and decay over the years; nothing hugely significant and certainly nothing brought on by neglect, just age and swampy Florida weather doing their things.
Setting out to restore the aging chapel in a responsible manner was a formidable process considering that the building’s walls are built from 6,000 precast concrete blocks with 46 different intricate patterns. Restoring the blocks by hand would be expensive, time-consuming, pretty much impossible.
Thanks in part to grants from the Florida Division of Historic Resources and Save America’s Treasures, however, the college was able to tap into a quickly emerging technology that will ultimately speed along the restoration process and save the college a whole lot of cash: 3D printing. This will be the first time that a 3D printer — a Makerbot Replicator 2, to be exact — has played a role in the restoration of a Wright-designed building.
FSC describes the basics of the restoration process in a detailed news release:
Together, the grants were used to analyze the deterioration of the textile blocks and create new molds for their replacement. The molds historically have been constructed by hand, an expensive process, and the molds for west wall blocks are the most difficult to produce of all the blocks on campus due to their complexity, according to restoration architect Jeff Baker of Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker Architects of Albany, N.Y., who is overseeing the project. The new molds were produced at Baker’s workshop from 3-D printed elements and handmade parts.
‘The success found on this project is a milestone not only in the restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings on the FSC campus but also for similar textile block projects designed by Wright and other architects throughout the nation,’ Baker said.
True to Wright’s original design, about 2,000 distinctive colored glass tiles were created and inserted into the manufactured blocks as part of the grant.
Under Baker’s charge, a majority the blocks along the chapel’s western wall will be replaced as part of the restoration effort.
Other Wright-designed buildings on FSC's lushly landscaped campus include several administrative buildings, another chapel, and the Polk County Science Building which includes the world's only planetarium designed by the highly influential proto-starchitect.
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- Frank Lloyd Wright's Spring House ranks on annual 'most endangered' list