It’s hard to imagine there was any sign of hope for a prosperous future in the 1930s, during a time of prevalent uncertainty. However, that wasn’t the case for one of the college’s most memorable forerunners, who came out of that era as a leading example.
It’s no secret that Alfred Browning Parker, B.Arch. 1939, played a vital role in architecture education at DCP. Whether it was in the classroom, in a studio or at a project site, Parker could be found sharing his many inspirational reflections and practices with his students. Parker’s impact was felt not only at UF, but throughout the country, as his architecture made an indelible impact on the Florida landscape.
DCP had the opportunity to interview Parker before he passed away in 2011. Below is an excerpt from the article “At 90, Parker continues to inspire,” which ran in the 2006-07 issue of the college’s alumni magazine, Perspective:
Beautiful and useful – it is appropriate that these two words, which visiting architecture professor and DCP alumnus Alfred Browning Parker uses to define his profession, can be collectively applied to his entire life. At 90, he continues to possess a zest and passion for architecture which is strongly expressed to his students, and everyone who meets him, through his words, actions and piercing blue eyes.
For three hours every Saturday morning during the fall semester, Parker was found teaching his students at his future home’s site on Colclough Pond off of South Main Street or at one of the various homes he has designed in Gainesville. In his course, titled “Three-in-One,” Parker discusses three concepts: the architect as a designer, a builder and an owner. His expectations are quite simple, and during each class he can be found telling his students the same thing.
“One of the first things I ask my class is ‘what is architecture?’ To this day, I don’t think I’ve yet to receive an answer that is satisfactory,” Parker said. “So I give them a definition; it’s a very simple one. Architecture has to be useful and it has to be beautiful. Of course, you can amplify that, but that’s the essence of architecture to me. Now that’s pretty simple, isn’t it?”
Born in 1916, Parker says his interest in architecture began at an early age. However, his skills came to life during his years at UF when he studied under Rudolph J. Weaver, the first dean of the School of Architecture. According to Parker, Weaver was a father figure in his life and it is Weaver’s practical teaching style that Parker emulates today.
“Weaver told us simple admonitions,” Parker said. “He’d say ‘Build strong. Build directly as possible with no complications. Use the materials at hand and keep these as few as you can. Let your building love its sight and glorify its climate. Design for use, make it beautiful.”
Parker graduated from the School of Architecture with highest honors in 1939 and worked for Weaver at UF after graduation. During World War II, Parker served in the U.S. Navy and instead of returning to the university to teach, he opened his own practice in Miami. “I decided that I need to learn something about architecture. I wanted to build things,” Parker said.
Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Parker fused famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic principles with his practical experience under Weaver and designed for the contemporary South Florida lifestyle. He took advantage of each building site’s characteristics and climate using local materials and building techniques. Wright openly admired Parker’s work, a very rare tribute, and occasionally visited his house in Coconut Grove. In 1954, Parker won House Beautiful’s Pace Setter award for a home he built for himself on a coral ridge overlooking Biscayne Bay.