23 episode documentary, each focusing on one distinguished building and its architect, from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Directrd by Frédéric Compain
--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.
Also known as the Johnson Wax Administration Building
, it and the nearby 14-story Johnson Wax Research Tower (built 1944–1951) were designated as a National Historic Landmark
in 1976 as Administration Building and Research Tower, S.C. Johnson and Son
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.
One approaches the building by walking underneath the Johnson Wax Research Tower and through a low parking lot, which is supported by steel-reinforced "dendriform" (tree-shaped) concrete columns. The parking lot ceiling creates a compression of space, and the dendriform columns are echoed inside the building, where they rise over two stories tall, supporting the structure's roof. This rise in height when one enters the administration building creates a release of spatial compression. Compression and release of space were concepts that Wright used in many of his designs, including the playroom in his Oak Park Home and Studio, the Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, and many others. The largest expanse of space in the Johnson Wax building is the Great Workroom, as Wright called it. This open area has no internal walls and was intended for secretaries of the Johnson Wax company, while a mezzanine holds the administrators.
Interior, "Great Workroom", of the Johnson Wax Headquarters 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. 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.
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. And finally, 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.
Despite these problems, Johnson was pleased with the building design, and later commissioned the Research Tower, and a house from Wright known as Wingspread. The Research Tower is no longer in use because of the change in fire safety codes, although the company is committed to preserving the tower as a symbol of its history.