Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Johnson Wax Headquarters

Johnson Wax Headquarters is the world headquarters and administration building of S. C. Johnson & Son in Racine, Wisconsin. Designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright for the company's president, Herbert F. "Hib" Johnson, the building was constructed from 1936 to 1939.

An example of streamlined design, the building has over 200 types of curved red bricks making up the exterior and interior of the building and Pyrex glass tubing from the ceiling and clerestories to let in soft light. The colors that Frank Lloyd Wright chose for the Johnson Wax building are cream (for the columns and mortar) and "Cherokee red" for the floors, bricks, and furniture. The furniture, also designed by the architect, and manufactured by Steelcase, Inc., echoes the curving lines of the building.

The construction of the Johnson Wax building created controversies for the architect. In the Great Workroom, the dendriform columns are 9 inches (23 cm) in diameter at the bottom and 18 feet (550 cm) in diameter at the top, on a wide, round platform that Wright termed, the "lily pad." This difference in diameter between the bottom and top of the column did not accord with building codes at the time.

Additionally, it was very difficult to properly seal the glass tubing of the clerestories and roof, thus causing leaks. This problem was not solved until rubber gaskets were placed between the tubes, and corrugated plastic was used in the roof to seal it, while mimicking the glass tubes.

Wright's chair design for Johnson Wax originally had only three legs, supposedly to encourage better posture (because one would have to keep both feet on the ground at all times to sit in it). However, the chair design proved too unstable, tipping very easily. Herbert Johnson, needing a new chair design, purportedly asked Wright to sit in one of the three-legged chairs and, after Wright fell from the chair, the architect designed new chairs for Johnson Wax with four legs; these chairs, and the other office furniture designed by Wright, are still in use.

The Johnson Wax buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Administration Building and the Research Tower were each chosen by the American Institute of Architects as two of seventeen buildings by the architect to be retained as examples of his contribution to American culture. In addition, the Administration Building and Research Tower were both designated National Historic Landmarks in 1976.

In 2008, the U.S. National Park Service submitted the Johnson Wax Headquarters and the Research Tower, along with nine other Frank Lloyd Wright properties, to a tentative list for World Heritage Status. The 10 sites have been submitted as one, total, site. The January 22, 2008 press release from the National Park Service website announcing the nominations states that, "The preparation of a Tentative List is a necessary first step in the process of nominating a site to the World Heritage List."

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