Fort Lauderdale’s Forgotten Asset:

Architect Don Singer’s Minimalist Masterpiece on Lake Melva

Text John T. O’Connor

Photo Ed Zealy

Ask anyone to describe Fort Lauderdale in the 1970s and the images conjured up were likely to be of girls in bikinis chased endlessly by college boys. City Hall concurred and by the ’80s decided to rebrand. By embracing culture, the thinking went, maybe we can shed the Spring Break bacchanal altogether. 

As this cultural rebrand centered not only on art, but on architecture, institutions began paying attention to design in a big way. Marcel Breuer Associates’ breathtaking Main Library and Edward Larrabee Barnes’ Museum of Art soon rose, making clear the City’s embrace of exceptional architects to create great places.  But three years earlier, architect Donald Singer had already completed a tiny jewel on the shore of Lake Melva in Poinsettia Heights, raising the bar on local architecture.

Completed in 1983, the Fire Prevention Bureau floats on the water like a piece of Modernist sculpture. Inside, rooms are protected from direct sun via concrete sunshades. Outside, the smooth, white structure and its angled volumes are defined by a constantly changing chiaroscuro that affects how the whole composition is seen. 

The building, which received praise culminating with an award from the American Institute of Architects in 1987, is today overshadowed by an unfortunate-looking new fire station. Empty for over a decade, the City has neglected this treasure deeming it surplus, like a broken office chair, and posting “unsafe structure” notices on its doors. Fort Lauderdale, have you no imagination?

Fire Prevention Bureau
Don Singer, architect