Johnson Wax Headquarters

There are 2 types of architects, those who follow current trends, and those who design for the future. The latter are guided by timeless morals that make their designs last through time, and still be seen as iconic decades after.

Frank Lloyd Wright has proved to be part of the second group, leaving us examples such as the Falling Water in Pennsylvania, or the Johnson and Son headquarters in Racine, IL. But, how do you spot which architect was part of what group? In the case of the Johnson and Son Headquarters by Frank Lloyd Wright, LIGHT is the key.

The building of Johnson and Son Headquarters is located in Racine, IL, an industrial city with very little to offer other than a couple Wright buildings, the Michigan Lake, and tons of churches. As a response to these factors, Wright enclosed the entire facility from the outside, placing a perimeter wall that serves as the limit of the lot and parking space. Although the aggressiveness of his action, it did not affect the quality of the light in indoor spaces.

As with every Frank Lloyd Wright building, there is a succession of space heights to create astonishing effects on visitors, and the Johnson and Son Headquarters is no exception. To get to the Administration Building (1939), you must walk through the Carport, low in height and with horizontal proportions that would remind you of an underwater world. However, when you enter the administration building, 31-feet-tall lily pod columns invite you to look up and enjoy the combination of live plants and high quality sunlit space. You are now at the Great Workroom lobby. You will need to pass through another short, low height ceiling transition to arrive to the famous Great Workroom. The dimensions of this room are generous and the light coming through the ceiling is way better than any fancy bulb could provide. Again, cabinets with live flowers enhance the outdoor-like feeling of this space, recreating a living wood, outdoors this time.

But, despite being one of the most studied structures in architecture, the Workroom is no rival for the light quality of the Research Tower (1950). This time the dramatic effect of transitioning from enclosed to wide spaces is even more exaggerated. To reach to research levels, you will have to go climb the narrowest starts you have ever encountered, located in the interior of the concrete core that supports the entire building. Once upstairs, you will reach a connected double height level where all the light coming in is filtered through the famous horizontal glass tubes. The quality of the space created by the communications of 2 levels leaves you speechless. You will wish your office had half the light quality this space has.

There is much more to the building that its light. For example, the fact that the headquarters was the first building in the United Stated to be mechanically ventilated, or the fact that Wright designed a technical floor with 1 installation pocket for electricity, another for telephone, and a third one for “the future”. But, all of these are just anecdotes when compared to the one trait that makes this building part of architecture history, its light.

Again, Frank Lloyd Wright amazes me. And I believe it to be true, when he said “space is the breath of art”.







As you can see, we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the buildings.


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