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Frank Lloyd Wright in Florida
Florida Southern College regularly appears on lists of America’s most beautiful campuses, which is no surprise to anyone familiar with the school’s history. Although established in 1883, a portion of the campus was built in the mid-twentieth century, when the Lakeland, Florida institution benefited from one of America’s greatest visionaries: Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1938, the college’s president, Ludd Spivey, needed to reinvigorate the school, and reached out to the architect to see if he would be interested in designing an expansion for the campus. It was Wright’s first opportunity to build a community totally comprised of his own architecture, and he jumped at the chance.
“It was during the Depression, so Dr. Spivey and the school had very limited funds,” says Jeff Baker, partner at Mesick, Cohen, Wilson, Baker, the architecture firm now tasked with preserving and maintaining Florida Southern’s Wright buildings. “And at the same time, a lot of students didn’t have the funds to go to college.” Wright and Spivey found a simple solution: students would work their way through school building Wright’s designs. When WWII broke out and many men enlisted, female students took over the construction. Students and contractors erected twelve buildings between 1938 and Wright’s death and Spivey’s resignation in the late 1950s, which effectively halted the project. Baker’s firm added the Usonian House in 2013, a faculty residence Wright had designed in the thirties, but the university had never built. “Since most of Wright’s buildings were houses, building this taught us so much about the way he designed,” Baker says.