Site Visit: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Florida Southern College

My WMF colleague Jamie Kendall and I recently returned from a two-day visit at Florida Southern College where we convened a group of international scholars, architects, and architectural conservators to discuss Frank Lloyd Wright's use of concrete or "textile" block construction.

Wright was unquestionably a genius, but his career-long fascination with innovative building materials and systems has resulted in numerous preservation conundrums. Specifically, Wright's desire to redeem the concrete block, what he referred to as the "gutter rat" of architecture, as a low-cost, easily fabricated and constructed material resulted in his experimentation in as many as 50 separate built structures and even more designs. At Florida Southern, the blocks have suffered from rain water erosion, well-intended but ultimately harmful early repairs, and the changing needs and demands of a dynamic and growing college campus.

Among the people we brought to Florida Southern was Eric Lloyd Wright, grandson of Frank, son of Lloyd. Eric is an elegant, thoughtful, and generous spokesperson for his family's considerable legacy. An architect in his own right, Eric has participated in several restorations of his grandfather's projects. He has a remarkable humility and passion for the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and speaks with authenticity and authority about the choices and ideas expressed in the master's built works. And, Eric is a really nice guy, warm with a great sense of humor and grace.

Eric is very tall, standing 6'2". Those familiar with Frank Lloyd Wright's work might know that he designed for a world of people more his size (he claimed 5'8 1/2" on his passport). Eric seems to have done a lot of ducking in the spaces he has made a career of saving, and this was certainly the case at Florida Southern, which has a spectacular network of low esplanades that connect the 12 Wright structures on campus.

These esplanades would seem to create a hardship for members of the Florida Southern basketball teams, but they provide a remarkable experience to the "Wright-sized" visitor who can escape the hot Florida sun under these passages through what was once a verdant citrus grove. As Eric ducked under the esplanades, he simply smiled and said, "I've been doing this my whole life."