Drawn to Central Florida: Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture

By: Jessica Roberts

Whether you are an architectural aficionado, history buff or just a lover of interesting sights, you won’t regret exploring the world-renowned Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture collection at Florida Southern College – I know I didn’t!

The fifth stop on our Drawn to Central Florida tour, as described by the artist, Josh “Bump” Galletta.

It’s sad, but sometimes we forget what amazing features the town we live in is home to. As a Lakeland resident, I live minutes from the Florida Southern College, which is home to the world’s largest single-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. It’s a fact that I must shamefully admit slips my mind from time to time. Wright fans know the collection is a big deal, but you don’t have to be an architecture aficionado to appreciate the aesthetics of what was once voted by the Princeton Review as the “The Most Beautiful Campus in the Nation,” and significance of it being a National Historic Landmark.

It’s a beautiful site and it’s really simple to tour!

Drawn To Central Florida Frank Lloyd Wright Annie Pfeiffer Chapel

The Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center at Florida Southern College features the Wright-designed Usonian House and GEICO Gift Shop and was opened as part of an ongoing effort to better educate visitors to Wright’s Child of the Sun collection at Florida Southern College. They offer several different types of tours, guided and self-guided.

I love admiring the center’s permanent display of photographs, furniture, and drawings depicting Wright’s relationship with the College and the visiting exhibits it has on loan from various other Wright sites (remember, he’s a famous architect).

Poster Image for Drawn to Central Florida Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture

I think the best way to experience the campus is with a guided tour.  Having an expert tell you about the ideas behind each building as well as pointing out neat, sometimes over looked features, is well worth it.


(Spoiler Alert) Before I go, I’d like to share some of the neat things about the campus I learned on my last guided tour of Child of the Sun:

Florida Southern College is the largest single-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in the WORLD. It’s kind of a big deal.

  1. The campus came to be because in 1938 Florida Southern College president Dr. Ludd Spivey, in hopes of transforming his small school into a national landmark, reached out to famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright asking him to design their campus’ academic buildings. It was a longshot, but wouldn’t you know that Frank Lloyd Wright agreed and history was made. That old saying rings as true as ever: “You’ll never know if you don’t try.”
  2. With Frank Lloyd Wright’s blueprints in hand and a minuscule budget, Dr. Spivey offered students free tuition in exchange for their efforts in constructing the buildings. So yeah, actual students helped erect some of their buildings brick-by-brick. Pretty cool, huh?
  3. The columns of the esplanades (covered walkways throughout the campus) are actually meant to represent orange trees…well, Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision of a Florida orange tree. This is something I didn’t notice at first, but now when I look at them now, I have a new found appreciation for the thought behind them, and every other one of his designs, for the matter.
  4. The water dome is only run at its full level once or twice per year and when it is, it propels water up to 45 feet in the air. That’s only a foot shorter than the neighboring Roux Library.
  5. Florida Southern College is the only campus Wright designed and is home to the first and only planetarium and theatre-in-the-round he ever designed as well.
  6. Frank Lloyd Wright originally designed 18 buildings for Florida Southern College. Thirteen have been completed so far with the most recent addition being the Usonian House which opened October 31, 2012. There are currently no plans to construct the rest of the buildings, but you never know.

Another great thing about touring Florida Southern College is that you are in Lakeland, Florida and within close proximity of the city’s eclectic downtown area. Find good places to eat and fun things to do in Lakeland here. Oh, and if you’re into touring cool architecture, you should probably not leave Polk County without visiting the 250-foot carillon tower at Bok Tower Gardens and touring it’s Pinewood Estate, which is spectacularly and festively decorated in the winter.

Check out the rest of Josh “Bump” Galletta’s collection, by clicking below.

Author: Barbara Cagle

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