While visiting my hometown at Christmas, we took a tour of the Johnson’s Wax Headquarters which has been made famous by its successful business and its architecture, which includes buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright and Norman Foster. These buildings are amazing gems in Racine, a City that has had major economical struggles in the past.
The Administration Building was built in 1936 and is Wright’s interpretation of a streamlined Art Moderne style which was popular in the 1930s. The building has many curvilinear forms, in which 200 different curved “Cherokee Red” bricks were required. The brick mortar was raked deeper on the horizontal to emphasize the horizontality of the building which Wright is known for. The vertical mortar was a darker shade of red so it would blend into the background. Wright plays with the compression and release of space as you enter the building as he did in many of his other designs. As you walk into the building, you see the “Great Room” with the famous dendriform columns, which are 9 inches in diameter at the bottom and 18’ diameter at the top. These columns did not meet the City code and had to be tested before a building permit was issued. The building department required Wright to test the columns with 12 tons of material on the top. The columns held 60 tons before crashing down.
The Research Tower is one of two existing high rise buildings by Wright. The tower has a single reinforced central core with a spiral staircase which Wright termed as a “tap root”. The tower’s floor slabs emerge from the tap root like tree branches. The tower had been closed for years because of the fire safety code but after a 12 month renovation has been reopened.
In 2006, the Johnson’s family contracted Norman Foster to build Fortaleza Hall on the Johnson’s Wax campus to house their Sikorsky-38 amphibious plane. You can read more about this project on Foster and Partners website HERE.