Segments in this Video

Johnson Building Overview (02:43)


The Federal Technical Commission was skeptical about Frank Lloyd Wright's tapered concrete columns in 1937. View footage of weight bearing tests proving their structural integrity. (Credits)

Johnson Building Reception (01:19)

In 1938, a Time journalist compared the interior to a woman swimming naked in a river. Wright considered it a technical success.

Johnson Family History (00:56)

The company has made household products since 1886. In 1935, Hib Johnson contracted Wright to modernize its image with new offices.

Johnson Building Project (01:28)

In the 1930s, Wright's career slowed. Johnson's commission enabled him to design a future city; he reluctantly agreed to build it in the factory town.

Johnson Building Location (01:11)

Wright made a fortress to fit its industrial environment. He preferred horizontal designs to sky scrapers.

Johnson Building Entrance (01:39)

Wright wanted the entire building to symbolize the Johnson Company. There is no facade; the sole access point is through the garage.

Great Workroom (01:49)

The Johnson Building uses an open plan, sealed from the outside environment. Managers overlook staff from a mezzanine and employees have no windows.

Johnson Building Lighting (00:58)

Wright's glass ceiling and independent lateral walls allow natural light into the work space.

"Mushroom" Columns (03:25)

Wright used pillars to create a ceiling and roof, but electricity replaced natural light. He used steel mesh to reinforce the concrete, and referred to his design as "organic" architecture.

Johnson Building Construction Process (01:15)

Wright changed details frequently, making life hard for engineers. Hear his thoughts on working with Johnson. The project cost four times the estimate.

Johnson Building Decoration (01:57)

Inspired by the chemical industry, Wright used Pyrex tubes for partitions. He also designed the furniture.

Management Level (02:14)

Johnson had Wright build an auditorium and cafeteria for employees. The "bird cage" elevator and private balcony was for Johnson executives.

Johnson Building Inauguration (00:58)

Completed in 1938, many praised the project for its streamlined design that embodied modernity.

Research Tower (02:44)

Johnson contracted Wright to build an addition. Inspired by Japan, Wright designed a tower of cantilevered floors with a brick and Pyrex facade; it links to the main office.

Johnson Company Symbol (01:28)

Despite being shut in 1980, the tower became associated with the brand. View footage of a 1956 employee Christmas celebration.

Johnson Building Legacy (00:53)

The project renewed Wright's career until his death in 1959. Johnson built the company into a multinational corporation.

Credits: The Johnson Building: Architectures—Achievements in Modern Architecture (00:59)

Credits: The Johnson Building: Architectures—Achievements in Modern Architecture

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The Johnson Building: Architectures—Achievements in Modern Architecture

Part of the Series : Architectures—Achievements in Modern Architecture
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Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the greatest architects of the 20th century. The Johnson Wax Building, which houses offices and a research laboratory, is numbered amongst his masterpieces. Located in Racine, Wisconsin, the Johnson Building is an example of a streamlined modern architectural design. The Great Workroom has no internal walls and its ceiling is held up with “mushroom” columns tapering to narrow points. Curved bricks make up the building exterior and Pyrex glass tubing lets light into the building through the several opaque layers.  Columns initially did not meet building codes and it was hard to seal roof glass tubing to prevent leaking. In spite of these problems, Johnson was extremely pleased with the design. In 1944, he commissioned Wright to design the Research Tower that became a company symbol.

Length: 29 minutes

Item#: BVL65336

ISBN: 978-1-60057-647-8

Copyright date: ©2000

Closed Captioned

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