On a recent morning in a bright conference room at the newly renovated Broward Studios in San Marco, Robert C. Broward talked to me about the notion of form following function.
He pointed out that when the noteworthy architect, Louis Sullivan wrote, “form ever follows function,” he also asserted that human emotion is a significant part of function. “Architecture has to speak to the heart,” Broward explained. This sentiment easily sums up the approach that this celebrated architect has taken toward design throughout his career. He has always carefully considered how his work would affect human beings and the natural world. With his designs, he sought to enhance the sites on which he built, and never to “violate them,” as he says, in the way that much of modern-day construction tends to do. It is easy to see that his long-time workspace, now home to Broward Studios, both reflects and respects its occupants and its surroundings.
A Daughter’s Vision
1922 Felch Avenue has been home to Broward’s architecture practice since he first purchased the property in 1966. Recently, when health concerns kept him away from work, he and his wife considered selling the place to cover medical expenses. His daughter, Kristanna Broward Barnes, knew she had to do something. After all, his work place wasn’t any ordinary office. For the daughter of the famed architect, “letting the building go would be like letting him go.”
To keep the creative vibe intact in the studio and to ultimately maintain his legacy, Barnes decided that she would renovate the building and turn it into an opportunity for others. With the help of architect Cathy Duncan, Barnes repurposed the building in which Broward spent the majority of his decades-long career, transforming it into a place where younger architects, engineers, graphic designers and others can build their own practices.
Now she rents out the studios so that the building, which “has been his life,” will continue to have creative and innovative ideas echoing throughout its hallways for years to come. She opened it in April of 2013. Currently, it is home to several small businesses and creators including Jay Wright, Tom Gray and the marketing agency Rock My Image. In total, there are nine offices, a conference room, common space with seating, and two break rooms with kitchen facilities. According to one tenant, it’s a great place for people who would normally work from home isolated from other professionals. Tenants can bounce ideas off each other and it provides a nice business environment to see their clients. It is similar to Co-work Jax, but with a less urban feel.
Barnes recalls that about three years ago when her father’s health was failing, his professional life seemed to be disappearing around him. He wasn’t able to spend time in his most cherished spot, the drafting board in his office, and the University of Florida was archiving much of Broward’s practice, scooping up all of his best work to be preserved in the School of Architecture. That’s when Barnes bought the building and hired Duncan to design the renovations according to Broward’s central ideas about architecture. “I didn’t want him to feel like, ‘I did all this all of my life and it’s gone…just gone’.”
The History of a Special Location
Broward started his own practice in 1956. At the time, he was renting a very small second-story office above a San Marco square restaurant. In 1959 he moved to May Street in Riverside and then in 1964 his practice was in Mandarin. His business finally found a permanent home in 1966 when he bought the first of three lots on Felch Avenue on the outskirts of San Marco. It is now one building, but originally there was a one-pump gas station and a small grocery store on the contiguous lots. By the 1970’s he had all three lots. Barnes recalls moving back to Jacksonville in 1976 and living in the grocery store’s garage apartment, which Broward had renovated for her. He eventually bridged the two houses together and had the grocery store demolished in order to create more parking. Later, when Barnes renovated it, she was careful to have it done according to the most important tenets of design that her father had instilled in her.
She says that his “greatest influence on my life has been a respect for nature.” He taught her that a building should reflect its natural landscape. The updated studios echo just that, with Florida’s greatest assets featured: huge windows and skylights allow for lots of sunshine while the fountain and pool in the front exemplify the wealth of our water supply. The natural wood used in the interior provides an organic feel. According to Barnes, Broward has always had a great disdain for synthetic construction materials, or “things that pretend to be wood or pretend to be brick.”
A Distinguished Career
Among numerous awards Broward has accepted throughout the decades, in 2012 he was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame. He has been granted national AIA recognition more than once in his career. He received the “Test of Time” honors for the sustainability of his designs and was recognized on several occasions by the City of Jacksonville and the Historical Landmarks Commission Historical Preservation. The highly regarded Westminster Oaks retirement facility and the Unitarian Universalist church are just two local noteworthy buildings. But beyond all of Broward’s distinction, his greatest wish for his creative legacy is that he is remembered as “someone who really cared,” specifically about the land on which his designs were constructed. Barnes remembers that her father would pay such special attention to the landscape that he spent several days simply getting to know each site. Sometimes, before a single design was sketched out, he would pitch a tent and sleep on the land overnight. Broward says he remembers doing that for the notable Unitarian Universalist church in Arlington.
It was Frank Lloyd Wright who taught Broward that, “nature is really the beginning of everything” when it comes to designing. From Wright, with whom he trained for a year and a half, he learned to create “architecture that respects nature and people.” The experience that Broward enjoyed during his fellowship at Taliesin West and Taliesin East with Wright has shaped his entire career. Although he briefly worked with the famous architect at Florida Southern College earlier in his training, it was the time he spent at Wright’s estates that truly left a mark on his profession.
The fellowship was not simply a teaching program, but a way of life, Broward explained. “It was kind of like a commune,” he said. “We cooked and raised vegetables and drew and talked…it was a whole different way of teaching.” From this experience he made connections that would last a lifetime. Chuckling to himself, he recalled the time when he was first introduced to the great Frank Lloyd Wright, and when he first saw Taliesin West, the celebrated homestead in Scottsdale, AZ. “He asked me, ‘What do you think, lad?’ and I responded, ‘I think it’s very small.’” Then they talked about the significance of scale and how the mountains make the house seem small. Broward will never forget this conversation.
Broward continued to carry on the lessons of Wright throughout his work life. He believes that “many buildings violate their sites instead of enhance them.” His designs respect the land and become “part and parcel of what was there” prior to construction. In Florida it is the trees and the water that Broward takes into consideration the most when designing a building. Regarding many current construction projects he says, “We don’t respect the trees; we cut them down too easily.”
In addition to his architectural accomplishments, Broward was also a professor and a scholar. He taught for many years at the University of Florida as an adjunct professor of design. Recently the university has archived his entire practice along with other notable Florida architects. He is a published author whose works include John Henry Klutho, The Prairie School in Jacksonville and The Broward Family from France to Florida 1764 to 2011 as well as numerous articles about architecture written for periodicals and newspapers throughout the years.
In several of these articles, he rallied in support of the arts in public life and education, a passion he shares with his daughter. Long before there was Art Walk in Jacksonville, Broward was a strong proponent of the art community on the First Coast. He made it a practice to commission artists to build their work right into his buildings (decorative doorknobs, built in furniture, etc.) or to have them exhibited there when the structures were completed. For instance, when Wesley Manor in Julington Creek (now Westminster Oaks) was being built in 1960, Broward secured funding from the federal government to commission artists to create “therapeutic” artwork specifically designed for the new retirement community. It was the first building project to use federal funds for this purpose. Recently this building placed in the top 100 designs on the AIA list Florida Architecture. 100 Places. 100 years.
The Legacy Continues
Like her father, Barnes has spent many years of her life promoting art and cultural distinction within the Jacksonville community. On several occasions, she has received recognition for advocating for the arts in Duval County schools. She wants to continue supporting the artistic and entrepreneurial endeavors of others in the community by opening the studio to new projects. This is her vision for Broward Studios. For his part, Bob Broward wants his legacy to live on in the building by knowing that “creative people are using it and gaining experiencing and working together.”
Currently there are still two spaces ready to rent for architects, engineers, contractors, graphic designers, or other small businesses. For further information regarding the studio space, Kristanna Broward Barnes can be reached at 904-398-5087.