Even if you aren’t a big fan of architecture and don’t know much about Frank Lloyd Wright, checking out the unique campus buildings at Florida Southern College in Lakeland is cool, and quite an education.
Wright, widely considered the most famous American architect in history, designed a dozen structures of the campus starting in 1938. It is the largest collection of buildings designed by him in a single site.
The first building — the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel — was dedicated in 1941. A large fountain known as the Waterdome wasn’t actually completed according to Wright’s design until 2007. Seniors at the college have held a ‘Senior Splash’ in the large fountain, viewable on Youtube.
The Waterdome is easily accessible from the public parking area. Passing under unique covered walkways — Wright called them esplanades — you enter a large open plaza with the circular fountain in the middle. The water jets can be powered up to form a giant dome, but on many days they aren’t that tall and simply form a ring around the pool.
The chapel has been called the most significant building on the campus. Like other Wright buildings it features unique colored glass blocks that glow in many shades during daylight. .
The color of the buildings is sand, while the water features and oxidized copper trim recall sky or the color of Florida’s freshwater springs. The entire campus is along the shore of 350-acre Lake Hollingsworth, visible from several areas.
Wright called his design for the campus “Child of the Sun.” It’s also called the Florida Southern College Architectural District, designated a National Historic Landmark in 2010.
It is possible to walk around the campus briefly and see the outside of some buildings for free, but FSC is a private college and requires tickets for tours, even for self-guided tours that come with literature.
You can start at the Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center, which is open Monday to Sunday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The campus website encourages reservations especially for groups, at $20 per person for a basic tour, and $35 for an “in-depth” tour.