74 Years Later, Home Designed by Wright Finally Built

December 22, 2013

Wright-designed homeFifty-four years after Frank Lloyd Wright’s death, they’re still building his houses.

Though nobody will live in this one, you definitely can visit it.

Filled with custom cabinetry and furnishings designed by the venerated architect, the newly finished dwelling is a single-family house built from plans created by Wright in 1939 on the campus of Florida Southern College in Lakeland, where it’s in good company — there are 13 Wright-designed structures on the campus.

As such, the school is something of a mecca for Wright-ophiles and tourists in general, according to Cary McMullen, publications editor for the 2,400-student college, who said the school attracts more than 30,000 visitors per year.

And now, it has the Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center, which opened in November within the two-bedroom, 1,700-square-foot home designed in Wright’s signature Usonian style, which followed his theories for the creation of inexpensive suburban housing, McMullen said.

“Some of the furnishings were designed by Wright himself for Usonian houses, so people can get an idea of what his concept was,” McMullen said.

One bedroom in the house serves as a screening room for a 20-minute film on Wright’s architecture, he said.

It is the first Frank Lloyd Wright design to be built on the original site for the original client in almost 60 years, according to the college.

Wright was associated with Florida Southern from 1938 to 1958, when he collaborated with its administrators on a master plan for a “college of tomorrow,” McMullen said. Twelve of his designs were built before the architect’s death in 1959.

The house was intended to serve as faculty housing, though it never was constructed because of Depression-era financial difficulties and World War II, McMullen said.

Several years ago, the school decided to use the plan to build a visitors center, though the process, like just about any home construction, hit a few snags along the way.

These snags, however, were far from ordinary.

Wright’s overall idea for all the campus buildings “was to use materials native to the area, so when he specified concrete blocks for the structures, he used sand from the Florida soil,” McMullen said.

However, that native Florida soil in the blocks wasn’t particularly suited for the task, and the blocks began to crack and admit moisture into the buildings, he said. Architect Jeff Baker of the Albany, N.Y., firm of Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker collaborated on the project for the new house and arranged to experiment with construction techniques and materials to resolve the moisture issues, McMullen said.

In addition, the house was designed to use a unique “textile block” technique that doesn’t use mortar — the blocks instead interlock with each other, he said.

The construction team had to devise new molds for the blocks themselves.

The project required more than 1,700 such blocks, in 47 shapes, he said; 6,000 hand-inserted glass blocks add color to the home’s walls

“The (new) blocks are much denser than the originals, and they use stainless steel connecting rods” that won’t rust, he said. “Other than that, the house was executed pretty faithfully, according to Wright’s original plan.”

This post was originally published by the Chicago Tribune on Dec. 6, 2013.

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