Often referred to as the Johnson Wax Building, its most identifiable element are the dendriform columns, the name used by Wright because of their tree like shape. Wright’s ability to effortlessly incorporate the organic metaphor into his architecture is revealed in the building via a tall slender mushroom column that tapers to a base of a mere 9-inch diameter.
They rise 30 feet and terminate at the roof level as broad circular lily pads of concrete 18 1/2 feet wide. Wright’s imagination led to creating these hollow cored columns that serve as storm water drains and which feature hinged bases with pin jointed bronze shoes.
The exterior walls are non-load bearing and were constructed using red brick. Other materials used in the construction of the Johnson Wax Building included red Kasota sandstone and reinforced concrete with cold drawn mesh used for the reinforcement. He also designed over 200 different shapes of bricks that can be found in the building. The earthy colors he used including his signature Cherokee Red color were typical of Wright’s work at the time.
Wright provided almost utopian workspace, self-sufficient and a bit futuristic. The modern streamlined atmosphere was communicated through a consistent circular language; curved corner profiles, rounded shapes in furniture pieces, and use of Pyrex glass tubing extending beyond roofing materials for wall dividers and replacing conventional windows.
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. Building inspectors required that a test column be built and loaded with twelve tons of material. The test column, once it was built, was tough enough that it was able to be loaded fivefold with sixty tons of materials before the “calyx,” the part of the column that meets the lily pad, cracked (crashing the 60 tons of materials to the ground, and bursting a water main 30 feet underground). After this demonstration, Wright was given his building permit.
|Frank Lloyd Wright Johnson’s wax|
|Architect||Frank Lloyd Wright; Peters,Wesley W.|
|Architectural style||Late 19th and early 20th centuries American Movements|
|Added to NRHP||December 27, 1974|
|Designated NHL||January 7, 1976|
Frank Lloyd Wright was quoted in the Racine Times describing the SC Johnson Administration building as “simply and sincerely an interpretation of modern business conditions designed to be as inspiring to live in and work in as any cathedral ever was to worship in.”