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NiteTalk: Alfred Browning Parker's Fabled Florida Architecture

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NiteTalk: Alfred Browning Parker's Fabled Florida Architecture

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Miami's got some magnificent buildings. From the Grove and the Gables, up to what was once known as Lemon City, our homes and our businesses rival any other city in the world. Much of that reason was because Alfred Browning Parker chose to put his mark here. On Wednesday, fellow architect Randolph C. Henning unveils his monograph at Books and Books and discusses Parker's fabled legacy.

For those who may not know, who was Alfred Browning Parker? Alfred Browning Parker (1916-2011) was arguably Florida's most creative architect, undeniably one of its most lauded.

What were some of his most notable creations?
Alfred Browning Parker designed well over 500 projects in his 60-year career. Most notable were his own homes, especially the homes he designed for himself on Royal Road and in Gables Estates (both recognized as Pace Setter's by House Beautiful magazine), as well as the home he called Woodsong, his mother's Jewel in the Treetop home, and the demolished Alliance Machine Company building (all in Coconut Grove), plus the Hope Lutheran Church on Bird Road, the General Capital Corporation building on NW 54th Street, Miamarina ("remuddled" into a Hard Rock Café on the Bay) and Temple Beth El in West Palm Beach.

Didn't House Beautiful consider the Royal Road home to be "organic architecture"? Yes, House Beautiful considered Parker's Royal Road home an example of organic architecture, as did Frank Lloyd Wright when he wrote, "This Florida home aims at the highest goal to which architecture may aspire: Organic Architecture, " in a caption that accompanied the article.

Could Browning be considered an early organic architect? I suppose one could. Personally I would consider Alfred Browning Parker an architect who clearly understood the organic principles and philosophy of Frank Lloyd Wright and whose work was certainly inspired by that of Wright's. But perhaps it would be more accurate not to classify him strictly as an organic architect (or as some refer to him as a tropical organic architect), as classifications are always so limiting. He was more an individualist and his work was more a result of an honest response to the tropical environment, climate and weather, client's program and use of local materials.

How did he fit in with Morris Lapidus?
He didn't. Their work was at different ends of the spectrum and created for significantly differing reasons.

How did Browning come to know Frank Lloyd Wright?
Alfred Browning Parker wrote a fan letter to Wright after discovering his work in his final year attending the School of Architecture & Allied Arts at the University of Florida. They corresponded over the next 20 years, until Wright's death in 1959. Parker used to send Wright mangoes on Wright's birthday. In 1955, Wright stayed with Parker at his Royal Road house while Wright was in town to present a lecture. (I wrote an article on the relationship between Parker and Wright that was published last year in HistoryMiami magazine.)

How'd you come to book him anyway? I met Alfred Browning Parker in 1983 researching for a book on Wright work in Florida. Ten years later I asked him if he would allow me to do a book on his own creative life work and he said "yes." I saw no one else was doing it and I felt strongly that his work should be seen and studied by a larger audience -- that it deserved its own book -- as did he. It's even more relevant today with the growing interest in mid-Twentieth Century architecture, green architecture and sustainability.

Which of Browning's most famous buildings are still standing?
Unfortunately, many of his built works have been either demolished or "remuddled" beyond recognition. However some still remain and include Hope Lutheran on Red Road, his own Woodsong residence on Seminole along with the Gayer residence on Carmen Court (both in Coconut Grove), the Landon residence, Magnuson (now Wallace) residence and Parker (now Bastain) residence all in Gables Estates, the General Capital Corporation building on NW 54 Street west of I-95 (now owned by the Miami Times newspaper), Temple Beth El in West Palm Beach and St. Louis Catholic Church in Miami.

Randolph C. Henning on The Architecture of Alfred Browning Parker Wednesday September 21, 8pm at Books and Books 265 Aragon Ave Coral Gables. For more information call (305) 445-4408 or log on here.

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