Wright-Designed Tourism and Education Center is "Taking Shape"
Construction has begun on historic project, architect's vision fulfilled through cutting-edge process
Eugene Castonguay crafting a block mold for the Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center.
The Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center will be constructed using Wright’s innovative building process called the textile block system—consisting of 1,978 total blocks in 47 different shapes.
LAKELAND, Fla. (June 23, 2011) – Florida Southern College's new Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center is under construction with a blend of historical design and high-tech processes.
The new building's design, like the campus' existing Wright structures, features various intricate, custom-made concrete blocks. These blocks have been improved upon through extensive planning and testing, as well as key creative changes made to the composition of the concrete.
The highly-anticipated tourism center is being constructed using plans for a Usonian house that Wright created as part of the campus master plan but which was never built. Wright's Usonian houses were intended to be distinctly American in style – Usonian is an acronym for United States of North America. The Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center at Florida Southern College will be the first Wright structure constructed for the original client on the original site since 1966.
The footings and foundations of the building are in place, and underground systems such as conduits, ducts, and drain lines are currently being installed. The building is expected to have a roof this fall, with the final details completed in March 2012.
Florida Southern College alumnus and former trustee Dr. Robert R. Sharp '61 and his wife Peggy contributed the gift to name the center. In addition, a large part of the project's funding was provided by Polk County and the City of Lakeland, who gave a combined $1.5 million toward construction. The center is anticipated to greatly increase tourism to the Polk County area and generate revenue for the local economy.
The College welcomes more than 30,000 visitors a year to tour the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings and anticipates that number will exceed 100,000 visitors by 2014. The Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center will provide a dedicated space for an introductory film on the history of Wright's career and 20-year relationship with FSC, as well as a gift shop; a tourism kiosk with information on other Polk County attractions; exhibitions and conferences; and docent-led, audio, and self-guided tours.
More about the complex block-making process
The final design of these complex molds incorporates Teflon® inserts, which are manufactured using a state-of-the-art computer numerical control (CNC) cutter. CNC works by highly automating the production process, with a computer creating exact commands that are interpreted by machines to fabricate the inserts. These are placed in the larger molds prior to pouring the concrete, which allows the blocks to release without any of the mixture sticking.
The blend used to create the new blocks has been improved upon from the original design as well. Wright chose to mix local sand with the concrete as part of his desire to create "organic architecture," which reflects the natural environment of the buildings. His mixture created the look he wanted, but proved too porous to withstand years of exposure to the humid Florida weather without becoming worn.
For the new blocks, builders experimented with over 50 mixes, creating hundreds of samples, before arriving at the final composition. "The mix will replicate the original appearance, without replicating the original failures," said Jeff Baker, architect. "Our blocks are nearly twice as dense and strong as the original blocks, which means that they will not erode in the same fashion as the originals." They are also fitted with stainless steel reinforcements, which won't be visible in the final structure.
Reporter's note: View pictures of the construction and block-making process, please visit fsc.mocs photostream on Flickr »