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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian Home of Florida’s Lakeland College

“Frank Friday” July 2016

I had a few glitches getting this post to happen on Frank Friday-apologies!

Listed on The National Register of Historic Places, architecture fans from all over the world  visit the campus of Florida Southern College. On this campus, there are twelve buildings designed and constructed under the guidance of the great architect, Frank Lloyd Wright during the years of 1938-1958. My last “Frank Friday” post entitled Out Of The Ground And Into The Light, A Child of the Sun-Frank Lloyd Wright Tour, spoke to my experience touring the campus structures. Part 1 of 2 posts Florida Southern College

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During The Great Depression of the 1930’s, many colleges were forced to close. Florida Southern College President Dr. Ludd Spivey had the challenging job of navigating this institution during extremely difficult circumstances. He envisioned something different and unique, “a college of tomorrow.” He visited the architect at his Wisconsin home and convinced him to undertake the design.

Arriving from Wisconsin to get a feel for the site, Mr. Wright envisioned buildings “rising out of the ground and into the light.”

Initially, a total of eighteen buildings were designed, with the aid of student labor. More importantly, a concept for academic life and community were woven into these designs. Living spaces on the campus were designed  as faculty housing in the Usonian (1) concept and  built using the organic architectural style(2).

Sadly, six buildings were not built.  It was the era of The Great Depression.

It is hard to fathom that these designs were lost to time, and yet, this is exactly what happened. During the tour, we learned that the plans were found in the archives at Florida Southern College.

In 2013, Florida Southern College opened the Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center in conjunction with the completion of one of the Usonian homes. This center is located in an older renovated home and the place where the tours begin.

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Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center

From the porch,  you are greeted by a statue of the great architect and there is a view of the home.

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Designed in 1939 this two bedroom, one bath home is a great example of Mr. Wright’s Usonian (1) concept. These homes have a distinct American style, one that the average American might afford. Economical yet elegant, filled with style, light, and art.

 

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In contrast with the neighbors

 

From this distance, you begin to get a glimpse of an example of Organic Architecture. (2) Florida’s Southern Cypress wood and concrete are used in the natural building materials of this home.

The following photos will show features of Usonian houses. A few include horizontal lines used to connect the home with the land, flat roofs with overhangs, use of natural materials such as brick, glass, and wood, carports. These designs might seem common but I like to remember that FLW was born in 1867 and this home was designed in 1939. Very “fashion forward.”

 

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FLW Usonian Home and carport

 

The public side of the home or the street side appears stark. The front door is unassuming and hidden; this is a concept that Frank Lloyd Wright used in his design. I love that. So where is the door?

 

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Multi-level cantilevered rooflines and car port

 

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Walking around to the side of the home, you still wonder where the door is.

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From this view, you get a glimpse of the door.  At the entrance, there is a sneak peek of the glass tile in the concrete.

 

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FSU Usonian home entrance

 

From the outside, one might think that these tiles were purely decorative to the exterior. In photos below, there are examples of how these tiles appear from the inside. While writing this blog, I gained a new perspective on how much craftsmanship is put into the making of these. The glass blocks were made in an American factory that has been in operation since the late 1800’s. I hate math and the measurements that are needed to make these exact fits are beyond my comprehension, but they are pretty.

Stepping into the hallway, it still appears stark, dark and cold.   And yet this design is purposeful. This is an example of compression-expansion. (3)

 

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FSU Usonian Home Hallway

 

Of course, the floors are concrete slab floors with in-floor heating and painted in FLW’s signature “Cherokee Red.”

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In short, you walk into an enclosed space and then step into a bright light filled room. This is one of my favorite design elements.  This home is a bit less dramatic than others that I have visited, but on this small scale, it still holds wow factor.

 

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Floors that I love

 

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FSU FLW Usonian home natural light

Open concept in 1939 was weird.

 

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bright and open, concept before it’s day

 

One thing that struck me was that at the time of this design, the tall buildings would not have been blocking the intended views.

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FSU FLW home with bright light pouring in

The Usonian homes are typically designed in the shape of a tadpole, with the bedroom areas being the tail and the living areas, the head. Meant to coax people out of the small bedrooms, into the living/common area and out into nature.

 

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FSC FLW Usonian Living area overview

 

Stepping into a great room might be fantastic in terms of today’s design, however, this home was designed in 1939. Think Victorian homes of 1900 where there is are parlors, formal living room, dining room and so on. In this photo, note the fireplace that I have seen in several of the FLW homes. Also, notice the play of light on from the glass tiles. Having done several tours, I know that FLW had to approve art on the walls, I wonder if he would approve of his photo over the fireplace?

 

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the chairs 

 

Another view

 

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Open concept before everyone wanted it

 

Another view of the dining room.  This room shows the glass blocks, built-in’s before they were cool and flexible furniture.

 

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flexible furniture

 

About the kitchen, FLW believed that a kitchen was a workspace. The home should be a place of togetherness, who doesn’t want to minimize time spent in work? Again, this concept was not vogue in the day and in fact is a design element in today’s finest of homes. I agree.

 

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FSC FLW kitchen

 

Actually, it reminds me a bit of the kitchen in my Aunt Marie’s house of the 1940’s small mill town in Wisconsin. Efficient.

On the subject of furniture, influenced by Japanese art and furniture, Wright created furniture that was simple, sophisticated, and subtle. Frank Lloyd Wright was called a micro-manager on the crazy scale. Myself, I get it, and here is what I love about this introduction to  a concept that is today; let’s live in a way that makes sense. This home incorporates these elements quite well.

  1. The furniture was built in the scheme with the homes. Functionality was key.
  2. He didn’t entrust his clients to have the overview of design in terms of harmony. How would one move a Victorian 1900 home-owner to rethink that stuffy dining room?
  3. Furniture of the day, and even now, is elaborate, non-functional, poorly constructed and not so flexible. The flexibility thinking is key, I think of this often.
  4. Being moveable,/flexible. Wright’s free standing furniture helped create a spatial flow and open space. Similar to built-ins, his moveable furniture was also built from organic materials. He believed that homes should influence and resemble family unity.  Why buy more #*!#^@ than what one needs?

The tour concluded in one of the rooms designed for a bedroom. We watched a fantastic short film and our tour guide reminded us that this home as a symbol of the commitment to share these masterpieces with the world.

MEGastars-5 ***** Great Tour.  Very inspiring, I hope to build my version some day! 

MEGatips:

  1. The Sharp Family Tourist and Education Center and Shop is located at 750 Frank Lloyd Wright Way in Lakeland, Florida.
  2. Open 362 days of the year from 9:30 AM-4:30 PM, closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.
  3. You can tour the home for $7.00 but do the entire tour including this home.
  4. For people who want to self-tour the campus, do stop by the visitor center and pick up a pamphlet with a map. From that point, the exterior of all buildings may be viewed. In addition to the outdoor water fountain, Esplanade, the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel and The William Danforth Chapel and is open to the public. *To note, to visit the interior, of this home, one must purchase a tour ticket. Twice on the home tour, people tried to enter.
  5. The Usonian House was completed was built in 2013 and may be toured solo for $7.00 or added into a tour package.
  6. Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Members bring your card, you will receive an additional discount.
  7. Check out the original aerial drawings. I am going to incorporate a few of these ideas into my dream home. Aerial drawings Site © by Mr. William Carpenter.
  8. We were told by the tour guide that the library holds original drawings that can be viewed, I ran out of time.

(1) Usonian concept-“Usonian”-of/or related to the United States. United States Of North America.

It is said that the name “Usonian” was adapted from events that transpired during one of Wright’s overseas trips to Europe. In the early 1900s, there was talk of calling the United States “U-S-O-N-A” to differentiate America from the new Union of South Africa that had just been established. Frank Lloyd Wright adopted this term and used it to define a style distinct to the United States landscape (vs. all of The America’s-Canada and Mexico.) This home would be free of fluff and formality of European style homes. It would be his attempt to provide what he felt all humans deserve, a stylish home tailored to their needs as an affordable option for the middle class. FLW envisioned a home that would be the heartbeat of a family, one with beauty that would incorporate his organic architecture concept.

(2) it’s complicated…. but let’s thank Wikipedia for a quick definition. Organic Architecture is a philosophy of architecture which promotes harmony between human habitation and the natural world. This is achieved through design approaches so sympathetic and well integrated with a site that buildings, furnishings, and surroundings become part of a unified, interrelated composition. Organic architecture also implied that the home had its roots from the ground. Both of these terms reflected his thoughts of how a culture should utilize its roots and appreciate where they had come from, embracing the past in order to move forward toward the future. It is natural elements brought into the construction, the site that holds the building in it’s hands and not the other way around.

(3) Compression-expansion-   I have heard this design element described with different language. The term for this: “compression-expansion” or “compression-release” or “tension and resolution” and “embrace and release.  Whatever it is called, I LOVE when I step into the light!

 

 

 

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