Nature, Structure, and Esplanades: Frank Lloyd Wright's Florida Southern Campus
Among the many benefits of traveling is the opportunity to see architecture that you’ve never experienced. Despite growing up just an hour away from Florida Southern College, I had never experienced this campus. It’s the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work anywhere in the world. This was an immense treat for me and somewhat of a recharging. I’ve visited many FLLW sites (open and sometimes not) but none provided the breadth of eye candy that Florida Southern does. I have so many photos of this visit that I’ll be hard pressed to share them all- but I will try.
For this first post on this experience, I would like to relay how we approached the campus and what I think FLLW’s inspiration was.
Upon arrival I did not know where to park or where to enter the campus and that’s the way I wanted this visit yo be - one of pure discovery. We parked on a far corner of the campus with no Wright buildings in sight. Walking down a Magnolia lined sidewalk we were both struck by the beauty of the magnolias on the trees and inspected several up close. I didn’t know it at the time but our close inspections of the magnolias were to be our introduction to one of Wright’s dominant design features on the campus - the colonnades of esplanades. In the Florida sun (and abundant rain) the esplanades that connect the various buildings are a necessary and delightful expression of how to live within and honor the particular climate and flora of this Floridian region. The columns that support the cantilevered roofs of the esplanades are nothing short of exquisite - just like the magnolias. In fact, knowing FLLW’s work, I’m convinced that the magnolias provided the visual AND structural inspiration behind Wright’s design (thinking of Hollyhock house in LA). Note in the flower picture below how the petals cantilever from the central bud. Note how the bud itself has a smoother base and a geometrically imbricated top. Then note how the columns do the same. The shape of the columns is not arbitrary nor is the pattern on them. The overall shape of the columns is a necessary function to carry the cantilevered load of the roof above it. You’ll see that the roof is thicker on the back side of the columns to counterbalance the progressively thinner roof that cantilevers over the walkway. All of it together looks like a splendid composition but it is based on principles of structure and nature. There are elements of decor on the surface of the columns but those too are inspired and resultant of something structural and functional in nature - the magnolia flower.
What exactly makes something beautiful? Is it color? Is it shape? Is it dimension? Is it structure? I think it must be all of those things working in combination to achieve a purpose or to tell a story and maybe that's how we define something as wholly beautiful.