The Annie Pfieffer Chapel at Florida Southern College was, like the majority of the buildings on the campus, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Construction was begun in 1938 and completed in 1941. The French door balconies were restored in 2007. The view of the chapel in this issue’s limited edition print of a sketch by Ladd P. Ehlinger, AIA is from the main quadrangle in the center of the campus where the sanctuary stands taller than any other building on campus. This is true even though the chapel is located half way up the sloped ground of the campus.
The reason for this is that the architect Wright took a lesson from history. As one can see from the interior view, the sanctuary space really isn’t all that tall and in fact is a rather intimate 2.5 story tall space. A balcony overlooks the main floor and there is a skylight above the raised center area. What Wright did was extend the side walls up much higher, a whole story and a half higher, while keeping the skylight roof at the lower intimate level so as not to overwhelm the occupants and force them to crane their necks to see the ceiling. In addition, he added the “Rooster Comb” like space frame of steel tube rafters and decoration to extend the height from the exterior ever so much higher, so as to fully visually command the campus.
There are several historical buildings, usually domed structures that employed similar devices - usually an exterior dome much higher than the interior dome, so as to be seen in perspective from afar, while not overwhelming the occupants on the interior. San Marco in Venice is a good example. In the historic buildings though, the observer is seldom aware of two domes as the upper dome is faked, whereas what Wright did is very straightforward and perceptible to the observer. He openly raised the height in a honest manner.
Ladd Ehlinger AIA