Tag Archives: architecture

He Thought His Buildings Were Alive

Waiting for our Frank Lloyd Wright tour to start with our friends Barb and John

I didn’t feel much like a father to my children, but I did feel like a father to my buildings.”  We took a tour of some of the eighteen buildings on the Florida Southern College Campus in Lakeland that were designed by the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Apparently Frank thrived on being at the college campus and loved to hang out with the students and get to know them. 

Statue of Frank Lloyd Wright

Unfortunately his love for, and interest in, the young people at the university did not extend to his own children.  Frank  was so busy with his career he had little time or understanding for his eight children, the result of three marriages. I first learned about Frank Lloyd Wright from reading Nancy Horan’s book Loving Frank which details an affair he had with a married woman who left her own children for him, and I must admit it left me with little respect for how he conducted his personal life.  Dave and I had also toured Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesan West campus in Arizona and his Oak Park Home in Chicago so we were interested to learn more about the famous architect and the work he did at a Florida college. 

windows frank lloyd wright house

Frank Lloyd Wright designed homes like this one called The Usonian without curtains to let the ‘outside in.’  The way the sun reflected shadows onto the floors in  patterns was also important to him. 

Wright believed buildings were alive which is why he used the color Cherokee Red in so many of his buildings- it reminded him of blood.  Check out the red floor in the Usonian house above. 

Our friends Barb and John sit in chairs designed by Frank Lloyd Wright while our guide shares his encyclopedic knowledge of the designer and architect.

We learned many fascinating things about Frank Lloyd Wright from Paul our knowledgeable guide who told us he’d ‘drunk the Kool-Aid’ when it came to the unorthodox and often controversial American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.Frank not only designed buildings he designed their furniture as well.  Here I sit at a diningroom table he designed.  The place mats are based on window patterns in Frank Lloyd Wright buildings.

Frank drew the blueprints for houses like The Usonian for faculty and staff of the university to live in. Wright also designed this Water Dome fountain at the centre of the campus which shoots water up to 45 feet into the air. It uses a great deal of water however so the full force of the fountain is saved for displays on special days on the campus like graduation. The various buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright on the college campus are connected with over a mile of esplanade. The supports were to be reminiscent of the orange trees that once grew all around the campus. Each of these beds of green shrubs are exactly 10 feet apart which is how far orange trees are generally planted apart in an orchard. Frank Lloyd Wright also designed the campus library. Frank was always trying to imitate nature in his buildings.  He designed the ceiling of the library to look like the sun. This overhang on one of his buildings features a butterfly design. Check out the Cherokee red steps on the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel which Wright designed. Inside the church- the facade which partitions off the choir and pipe organ from the sanctuary is decorated with origami shapes and re-creations of the First Nations symbol The Thunderbird.  Unfortunately the church like many other buildings on campus designed by Frank Lloyd Wright didn’t turn out to be as practical as they are beautiful. They have lots of construction problems and are constantly in need of repair. It is hard for the university to keep up financially with all the  work that needs to be done.

Standing on Frank Lloyd Wright Way on the Florida Southern College campus.

We learned from our guide that Frank Lloyd Wright was not one to take advice from ANYONE not even his clients.  You did things his way. Maybe that’s why one of the streets on the campus is named Frank Lloyd Wright Way. 

What Will You Be Building When You Have To Go?

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Do Buildings Have Souls?

tao fong shan mountain of the christ wind church hong kongDo buildings have souls?  I once interviewed an architecture professor who introduced me to the idea that buildings have souls. opera house 2According to him an architectural concept for any building should be a metaphor or image for the dreams and values of the people who will use that building.

habitat house thailand

My husband and sons on a Habitat for Humanity build in northern Thailand.

Articulating and defining the soul of a building is a process that needs to include as many of the people who will inhabit the finished structure as possible.

outside a maori meeting house

Maori Meeting House in New Zealand

I asked the architect I interviewed, how we could know for certain that a building accurately reflected the ‘soul’ of the community it housed. He told me the ‘soul’ of a building could not be measured. It was something that could be discerned only with the heart.

Other posts…….

Taliesin West

Taj Mahal

Opera House


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Lessons From the Sydney Opera House

“I like to be on the edge of the impossible”, said Jorn Utzon, the Danish architect who was responsible for designing the Sydney Opera House. On my visit to Australia, I toured the world-renowned landmark. I learned its construction and design was indeed a story of someone achieving ‘the impossible’, but it is also a story of dreams and relationships broken and restored.

The Sydney Opera House is a World Heritage Site because so many of the architectural methods and engineering techniques used to build it were completely new and were created expressly for its construction. Utzon’s design for the building was chosen from 233 submitted, but no one, including Utzon, was really sure a structure of its kind could be built. The tiles on the outside are just one example of the innovation required. They change colour depending on the amount of daylight and the temperature, so they rarely look the same. Most importantly they are self -cleaning. It took Utzon three years to design just the tiles.

Utzon devised and tested sixteen different schemes for making the famous white sails on the building’s roof before he figured out how to cut them from circles of steel. 16,000 workers were required to be on site during the construction of the signature ‘sails’. Utzon by the way did not call them sails. He wanted them to be abstract so each visitor to the opera house could have their own idea what they looked like. Some people say they remind them of waves, a dragon’s back, seashells, or dishes in a dishwasher. I thought they looked like Marilyn Munroe’s white dress in the movie Some Like It Hot when a blast of air from the subway grate blows her skirt up into the air. Whatever they remind you of, those ‘sails’ on the opera house roof took eight years to build.

Ten years after Utzon started work on the opera house a newly elected Australian government gave him an ultimatum. He either had to make concessions in his design and collaborate with government architects so the building could be finished more quickly, or he had to quit. Utzon resigned and the government hired others to complete his work. Utzon never went back to Sydney to see the finished opera house even though he won many of architecture’s most prestigious awards for designing it.

Thirty- three years after he’d resigned someone from the opera house staff approached Utzon to apologize to him and ask for an interview. Would he be willing to let them see all his notes and drawings and would he explain his original ideas so they could be kept for posterity? Utzon accepted the apology and agreed to the interview. Now the Australian government is slowly making changes to the Opera House so that eventually it will look exactly as Utzon planned. They have already replaced concrete outer walls with banks of windows and repainted interior walls with new colours following Utzon’s original plans. Utzon’s son has flown to Sydney to supervise these changes. John Utzon died in 2008 at age 90 but he died knowing that his original ‘dream’ for the Opera House would become a reality in the future.

Seven million people from all over the world visit the opera house each year and 350,000 take a guided tour. They learn all about how the one of kind architectural masterpiece was built. They also hear the story of how the relationship between the opera house designer and the country of Australia was broken and restored because each party was willing to be gracious and forgiving. Both of the stories are inspiring and important.



Filed under australia, Culture, History, People, Travel