Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Last Saturday, several of us from Larson & Darby in Rockford went on a trip arranged by the employee committee to Racine, Wisconsin to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1939 masterpiece, the S. C. Johnson Administration Building.

Like every architect, I had seen still photographs of the Johnson Wax building countless times.  I read accounts of its design and construction and Wright’s tussles with the building code officials.  I reread the passages about its design and construction in Friedman and Zellman’s fascinating book about Wright, The Fellowship.  I viewed videos of the building on YouTube the day before the trip.

None of that prepared me for the real experience of being in the main open office area of the building, the great space where all the dramatic photos are taken. 

The space Wright created in the Johnson Wax Administration Building is sumptuous and complex.  High ceilings, low ceilings, balconies, custom office furniture, the richness of Cherokee red brick, kasota stone, and that gorgeous glass tubing!  The room is breathtaking.

The character of the light flowing through the glass tube-glazed clerestories and skylights is unlike anything I have ever seen elsewhere.  It glows and sparkles at the same time, however improbable that may seem.  It also provides great lighting.

The SC Johnson Company deserves lots of credit as a patron of the art of architecture. It can’t be easy or cheap to maintain such a unique 70+ year old work of art, but the Johnson Company keeps the Administration Building in pristine condition, with no discernable alterations to Wright’s design.

SC Johnson’s company history, and incidentally their business commitment to sustainability, is showcased in another great building on the campus, the soaring and exquisitely detailed LEED Gold Fortaleza Hall, designed by Norman Foster and finished recently. 

The SC Johnson tour guide personnel are super knowledgeable and passionate about the buildings.   

If you appreciate great architecture, you owe it to yourself to experience the Johnson Wax campus.  Make plans to visit Racine soon.

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