SCJ Shapes

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2017

Circles seemed to be what caught my eye today when I shot a few quick pictures at SC Johnson today while accompanying 35 guests who are on a two-state Road Scholar / Jewish Community Center of Chicago architectural tour. These were taken in public areas where photos are allowed without special permission or arrangements.

SCJ 10.4.17 007.jpgThe Research Tower, upper right, peeks out from above the short columns on the walkway to the Administration Building carport.

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The carport presents a myriad of shapes to play with.

SCJ 10.4.17 014.jpgFinally, there is this picture at the entrance to the Administration Building.

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Wright at SCJ

Photos (c) Mark Hertzberg for SC Johnson

SC Johnson announces “Building Relationships: Wright, Johnson, and the SC Johnson Campus,” the fifth iteration of its Frank Lloyd Wright at Home exhibit in Fortaleza Hall on the company campus in Racine, Wis. The exhibit opens Friday May 6. The exhibit traces the design of the Administration Building (1936) and the Research Tower (1944) as well as touching on Wright’s influence on Norman Foster’s design of Fortaleza Hall on the company campus, and Santiago Calatrava’s Quadracci Pavilion at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

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A mural of the Great Workroom is the backdrop to selected pieces of office furniture that Wright designed for the Administration Building. The American Metal Furniture Co., later Steelcase, was commissioned to build the furniture. Steelcase bought and restored Wright’s Meyer May House in the 1980s as a “thank you” to Wright for giving them the commission during the Great Depression. The highlight of that portion of the exhibit is a suspended or “exploded” desk chair, enabling viewers to see each element of Wright’s design.

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The Norman Foster building and Calatrava’s museum addition are in the last salon of the exhibit, near a video which tells three stories in succession: historic footage of the famous column test at the Administration Building in June, 1937 and time lapse videos of Fortaleza Hall’s and the museum’s construction. Foster’s challenge was to build an inspiring building in the shadows of Wright’s two landmark buildings on the SCJ campus. Calatrava visited the campus as he was designing the museum addition. Wright’s organic architecture is said to have inspired the way he linked downtown Milwaukee to the lakefront museum addition to the original Eero Saarinen building (and its first addition).

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Reservations for free tours of the exhibit, Wright buildings, and Wingspread can be made at: www.scjohnson.com/visit

Frank Lloyd Wright Trail signed into law.

Photos (c) Mark Hertzberg 2016

Walker Wright Heritage Trail

Commemorative pens that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will use to sign the bipartisan bill to fund a Frank Lloyd Wright Trail between Racine and Richland Center, are on Wright’s table in his drafting room at Taliesin, his home in Spring Green, Monday March 21, 2016. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

The law provides $50,000 funding for highway signs and other marketing to promote Wright’s work in Wisconsin, from the Illinois/Wisconsin state line on I-94 through Racine, Madison, and Spring Green, and ending at the A.D. German Warehouse in Richland Center. Milwaukee is not included in the signage because Wright sites they are not open enough hours and it was thought it best not to divert travelers to sites they might find closed. Three sites in Racine will be included: the SC Johnson Administration Building, the SC Johnson Research Tower, and Wingspread.

Walker Wright Heritage Trail

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker walks out on the cantilevered balcony outside the living room at Taliesin before he signs the bipartisan bill to fund the Frank Lloyd Wright Trail, Monday March 21, 2016. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

Walker Wright Heritage Trail

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, center, chats with the bill’s sponsors on the cantilevered balcony outside the living room at Taliesin before he signs the bipartisan bill to fund the Frank Lloyd Wright Trail, Monday March 21, 2016. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

Walker Wright Heritage Trail

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, right, chats with state representatives Cory Mason (D-Racine) and Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville) and State Sen. Howard Marklein (R- Spring Green), the sponsors of Assembly Bill 512, the bipartisan bill to fund a Frank Lloyd Wright Trail between Racine and Richland Center, in the living room at Taliesin, Wright’s home in Spring Green, Monday March 21, 2016. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

Walker Wright Heritage Trail

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signs the bill to fund the Frank Lloyd Wright Trail between Racine and Richland Center, in Wright’s drafting room at Taliesin, his home in Spring Green, Monday March 21, 2016. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

Walker Wright Heritage Trail

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is applauded after he signs the bipartisan bill to fund a Frank Lloyd Wright Trail between Racine and Richland Center, in Wright’s drafting room at Taliesin, his home in Spring Green, Monday March 21, 2016. Looking on are Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine), left, Sen. Howard Marklein (R- Spring Green), Rep. Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville), who introduced the bill, and State Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), a co-sponsor / (c) Mark Hertzberg

Walker Wright Heritage Trail

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed the bipartisan bill to fund a Frank Lloyd Wright Trail between Racine and Richland Center, in Wright’s drafting room at Taliesin, his home in Spring Green, Monday March 21, 2016. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

Photos / First Tower Tour

Photos (c) Mark Hertzberg for SC Johnson

The first public guests to ever tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s SC Johnson Research Tower had about 45 minutes to explore the 1950s artifacts and displays about the architectural history of the building on two floors of the building, 3 Main and 3 Mezz, Friday morning. Interest in these first-ever tours has been so great that beginning in late May tours will be run five days a week through September, rather than only two days a week. These photos are from the first tour:

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And I leave you with one photo from the companion tour of the Administration Building:

First Tower Tour

Countdown to Tower opening

Photos (c) Mark Hertzberg for SC Johnson

In just twelve hours the first public tours ever of the SC Johnson Research Tower begin. There is such demand for the tours that Wednesday and Thursday have just been added to the reservation schedule. We whet your appetite for your visit with some photos shot this afternoon, including some from a unique vantage point. The Research Tower is Wright’s only executed tap-root tower (Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer told me that Price Tower is not a true tap-root tower because it is tied into the foundation of the adjoining office building).

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A portrait of Mr. Wright and H.F. Johnson Jr. at the Tower is on the elevator door on 3 Mezz:

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The Tower’s original lighting scheme was replicated as part of the restoration of the building (see older posts for photos of the Tower re-lighting at dusk on December 21, the Winter Solstice).

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You can see photos of some of the 1950s artifacts on display two articles below this one. To make tour reservations:

www.scjohnson.com/visit

Some people have asked me technical questions: today’s photos were shot with a 14mm f2.8 lens on a full frame digital camera body (a Nikon D600). I do not particularly favor one brand camera…I choose Nikons because of my investment in Nikkor lenses over many years.

Inside the SC Johnson Research Tower

(c) Mark Hertzberg

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The response to the opening of the SC Johnson Research Tower for the first public tours ever has been so strong that Sunday tours will now be available, as well.  http://www.scjohnson.com/en/company/visiting.aspx

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Two floors of the landmark (the “I”word is overused) building have been restored and furnished as they looked in November, 1950 when the building opened. Tours begin May 2. Here is a preview:

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SCJ Tower Relit!

Photos by Mark Hertzberg for SC Johnson (c)

The Frank Lloyd Wright-designed SC Johnson Research Tower in Racine, Wis. is relit Saturday evening December 21, 2013 with Wright’s original interior lighting scheme, to mark Winter Solstice. The Tower, which opened in 1950 and closed in 1982, will reopen for tours of two floors next spring. This marks the first time that Wright’s original interior lighting design – updated with energy efficient lights – has been seen for several decades. The interior will now be lit every evening.

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Restoring the SC Johnson Research Tower

Text and photos by Mark Hertzberg / Photos used with permission of SC Johnson

     The SC Johnson Research Tower is still enveloped in scaffolding, from top to bottom, as workers carefully clean and, in many cases replace, the 17.5 miles of glass tube windows that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for the building. The Tower opened in November, 1950, and closed in 1981 when research and development was consolidated in the nearby former St. Mary’s Hospital building. The work is in preparation for next year’s reopening of two floors (3 Main and 3 Mezz or Mezzanine) for tours.

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     Countless publicly-traded companies might have demolished a building like the Research Tower rather than let it stand vacant for more years than it was open. But not SC Johnson. The Johnson family and the company recognize that the Tower stands as a symbol of SC Johnson’s commitment to creative thinking. Indeed, the Tower is still lit at night. 

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Each section of glass is fitted back into the original hardware, and fastened as Wright instructed. It is carefully caulked and cleaned, as well.

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SCJ Tower to open for tours!

Photos and text by Mark Hertzberg; photos for SC Johnson and used with permission.

            For many years there have been two inaccessible Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in Racine. No longer. The Hardy House (1904/05) was open for its first tours in decades a week ago. Next year, the SC Johnson Research Tower (1943/44) will be partially open for tours.

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            The treat at the Tower, for fans of Wright’s architecture, will be two and three floors up a narrow staircase.The 30-inch stairs wrap around the core of the building, Wright’s companion to his SC Johnson Administration Building (1936).  Two laboratory floors, 3 Main and 3 Mezz (mezzanine) are being restored for visitors. Those two floors were a pilot lab, the intermediate step between the analytical research laboratory and the manufacturing assembly line, when the Tower was open.

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         Wright designed the 15-story tower in pairs of floors above the second floor: there are square floors where one sees brick bands on the tower (termed main floors), alternating with round floors (the mezzanine floors) where one sees the Pyrex-glass tube windows between the bands of Cherokee red bricks.

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     The landmark Tower, which was built after World War II, opened in November, 1950. It closed in 1981, when the bulk of Johnson’s research and development was moved into the nearby Louis Laboratories, the former St. Mary’s Hospital building. The Tower closed for two reasons. It could not be expanded to meet the company’s growing research needs. The “carport labs” opened in the courtyard carport in 1957, the first indication that the Tower space was not adequate.

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     In addition, there had long been concerns about the building’s safety. While Wright had proposed having two staircases and two elevators, he was overruled, and there is just one of each. The stairs were built a foot narrower than code, thanks to a building code variance. The round elevator is only six feet in diameter. Wright scoffed at the suggestion of fire because, he said, the building was constructed of brick, concrete, and glass. However, no combustible experiments were ever conducted in the Tower.

     Firewalls were constructed on each laboratory floor in the early 1970s, after the state expressed concern about the building’s safety. The firewalls marred Wright’s open floor plan, which allowed for uninterrupted circulation or passage around the core on each floor, says Wright scholar Jonathan Lipman, author of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Johnson Wax Buildings. The firewalls on 3 Main and 3 Mezz, left in both photos below, are being removed during the restoration. The dumbwaiters (second photo) will also be restored.

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     Chemists complained that it could be very warm or very cold in the Tower. Heating and air conditioning systems are being installed on the two restored floors for the comfort of visitors They are being hidden under the soapstone laboratory counters.

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       The face of the cabinets were originally Wright’s favorite color, Cherokee red, but were painted mint green at some point. They will be painted red again.

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            Although the Tower has been closed for longer than it was open, it has remained lit at night, as a symbol of the company’s commitment to creativity. In recent years the soft lighting has come from a multitude of three-foot fluorescent lights placed on the lab counters, and facing up. Those lights have been removed, and the Tower’s original lighting will be replicated. The new lights will be in the restored ceiling light fixtures:

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     The Tower is enveloped in scaffolding, as workers tuck point the brickwork and clean the 17.5 miles of glass tube windows in preparation for reopening the building. Windows tubes will be replaced, as necessary. 

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     Even the tiny triangular bathrooms on the core on 3 Main and 3 Mezz will be restored, and open to view by visitors. Their design includes sliding Cherokee red doors.

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 The building is Wright’s only executed taproot tower, says Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer. He points out that Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, often thought to be a taproot tower, is tied into the foundation of an adjoining building. 

     The late Sam Johnson, chairman emeritus of the company, reflected on its legacy in a conversation we had in 2001. He said that the company’s four most successful products were “hatched up in the Tower.” He continued, “In many ways it was a functioning failure, but it was a spiritual success.”

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          The history of the Tower, including how it was designed, interviews with chemists who worked in it, and historic and contemporary photographs of it, are in my book, Frank Lloyd Wright’s SC Johnson Research Tower (Pomegranate, 2010).