Interview with Jeff Baker

Feb 22, 2021

by Kelsey Elmhorst
Student Reporter

Last Friday, I interviewed Jeff Baker from Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker Architect, the consulting preservation specialist for Florida Southern College. We spoke about his role with Florida Southern and how he has led the restoration efforts on campus since 2007. From his childhood home in upstate New York, he was first exposed to Frank Lloyd Wright when he saw a television special about the famous Fallingwater located in Pennsylvania. His pursuit of a career in architecture was because of that defining moment.

Baker explained that FSC created masterplan in 2007 for all the future restoration projects. Dr. Rob Tate met with Baker and asked him if he was interested in working with the school to preserve the iconic pieces on our campus.

Usonian House interior
Usonian House interior

The Water Dome was a dream of Frank Lloyd Wright, but the technology was not available during his lifetime, so a series of connecting koi ponds were put in its place. When Dr. Anne Kerr began her tenure as President, she decided that the restoration of The Water Dome to FLW’s full vision would be the first on the list. The attention received upon its completion confirmed that this was perfect way to begin FSC’s restoration efforts. After the Water Dome, restoration to the Esplanades, Annie Pfeiffer Chapel, the President’s Office Terrace (Emile Watson Building) among others soon followed. The most memorable was the construction from the ground up of The Usonian House in 2013. Wright intended this to be housing for the faculty and although it was designed, it was never constructed. Many visitors to campus have enjoyed visiting this space which houses unique internal design elements, including furniture. The restoration projects are funded by grants that Florida Southern applies for as well as private donors.

In 2020, the Planetarium was next up in the masterplan. Baker was contacted and was once again asked to take the lead. After months of preparation which included securing funding and studying the building’s original blueprints, a complete game plan was in place.

Also, during this process, a mason had to be selected who could successfully match the blocks to FLW’s original design. Baker and his team created 3-D models of different elements that are involved in the process, making these models help the team better understand how everything fits together. Baker mentioned to be on the lookout for when the construction moves to the phase of the curved wall on the southern part of the Planetarium. This will require carefully extracting and replacing the previously mentioned blocks.

Baker soon realized this is a living breathing campus. There is constantly activity and moving pieces on our campus. I asked him what he thought Frank Lloyd Wright would think of our campus if he walked through it today, Baker would assume he would be proud of the efforts put into preserving his work. Baker thinks that Frank Lloyd Wright felt that FSC’s campus was the clear lineage of his legacy and also his greatest work.

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