Donald Singer was working on another ho-hum research project for one of his architecture classes at the University of Florida in Gainesville when he came across drawings by Frank Lloyd Wright (1869-1959), the American architect whose use of natural forms in design had a huge influence on modern architecture.
"For the first time, I saw how architecture could be passionate and how architecture could be related to the environment and to humanity," Singer recalls. "It was something that moved me."
It moved him so much that the following summer, in 1958, Singer made a pilgrimage to Taliesin West, Wright's Arizona home. "It was an epiphany," Singer says. The sense of place generated by the building and the way Wright had integrated it into the surrounding landscape further inspired him.
In a black-and-white photograph taken during the trip, there's a spark in the then-19-year-old Singer's eyes. The shot, which features him standing on Wright's property next to a tall gatepost that resembles a cactus, is on display in "The Architecture of Donald Singer, 1964-1999: An Exhibition" at the Broward County Main Library in Fort Lauderdale.
Singer grew up in Broward County and has been designing homes and commercial buildings here his entire career. His work is more modern and modular than Wright's, but the great architect's ideas about nature are evident in Singer's structures. Even before his discovery of Wright's principles, though, Singer found that only the framing stage of building fascinated him. "When [buildings] got covered with this dehumanized skin, they were no longer of interest to me," he says. "I like to see what's real."
Singer often uses wooden beams and cool concrete blocks, which he leaves unadorned. The simple beauty of such construction was recognized by the Florida chapter of the American Institute of Architecture, which gave Singer the Award of Excellence for the tony Star Island house he designed for prominent Miami dentist and businessman Larry Brody. The home's exposed masonry and beams frame large windows that offer breathtaking views of the Miami skyline across Biscayne Bay.
Preliminary drawings and photographs of the completed house are included in the exhibition along with sketches, models, and pictures of many of Singer's most definitive projects. Despite the retrospective title of the show, Singer's career is far from over. The gleam in the eyes of that lanky teenage architecture student hasn't dimmed. "I'm still passionate," he says.
The opening reception for "The Architecture of Donald Singer, 1964-1999: An Exhibition" will take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 29, in the Bienes Center For the Literary Arts, Broward County Main Library, 6th Flr., 100 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Admission is free. Call 954-357-8692.