Book Review: Frank Lloyd Wright's SC Johnson Research Tower
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Rising 15-stories, the SC Johnson Research Tower in Racine, Wisconsin is Frank Lloyd Wright's stunning modern exclamation mark at the end of the poetic statement created in his earlier (and adjacent) SC Johnson Administration Building. When it was completed in 1950, it stood as a triumphant symbol of innovation for both Wright and the SC Johnson corporation, published and admired around the globe. Yet, 31 years after it opened, the Tower was abandoned and has...
Rising 15-stories, the SC Johnson Research Tower in Racine, Wisconsin is Frank Lloyd Wright's stunning modern exclamation mark at the end of the poetic statement created in his earlier (and adjacent) SC Johnson Administration Building. When it was completed in 1950, it stood as a triumphant symbol of innovation for both Wright and the SC Johnson corporation, published and admired around the globe. Yet, 31 years after it opened, the Tower was abandoned and has stood empty ever since—an exquisite architectural corpse—shrouded in mystery and out-of-reach to both employees and the public. Just in time for the Tower's 60th anniversary, we are lucky to receive a much appreciated window into this misunderstood masterpiece through Mark Hertzberg's new book, Frank Lloyd Wright's SC Johnson Research Tower. More after the jump...
The book explores the complex legacy of the building, beginning in 1943 when a reluctant H.F. Johnson Jr. reaches out to his architect to design what would turn out to be an anything but common R&D facility for his growing family company. Frank Lloyd Wright seizes the opportunity and takes Johnson's suggestion to consider going skyward, delivering a tour de force consort to his Administration Building.
Illuminating the amazing story of its creation, construction, completion and transition are vintage and original photos by the author along with fascinating materials from both the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the SC Johnson Company archives. Some of the most interesting aspects of the book involve Mark Hertzberg's interviews with Johnson employees and contractors who worked directly on the Tower. "Bud" Nelson, who worked as a laborer on the Tower in 1947, provides some especially interesting insights into the construction process and even has his copy of the blueprints illustrated.
Along with the archival materials depicting the Tower rising floor-by-floor, Mark's contemporary photos of the Tower and its interior let the reader peek behind the curtain at the enigmatic building, allowing us the chance to catch a glimpse at something we would otherwise not be able to experience. These photos help illustrate the issues pointed out in the book that stand in the way of the Tower being used or even accessible to public tours. As innovative as the design was, it did not ultimately perform over the years as the growing corporation needed, and was ultimately vacated. Luckily, SC Johnson is an excellent steward, recognizing what the building means for both the company and the community it is apart of. I especially enjoyed the closing thoughts that current SC Johnson CEO, Fisk Johnson (grandson to H.F. Johnson Jr.) offers into what the Tower represents to the company and its possible future.
Frank Lloyd Wright's SC Johnson Research Tower is an extremely enjoyable read and an important addition to the study of Wright's work. Author Mark Hertzberg show's off his ability to take amazing photos that capture the essence of Wright's work in vivid detail. The only criticism I would find with this book is that its smaller size makes studying these great photos and the other illustrations more difficult than seems necessary. Hopefully any future books will be closer in size to Mark's first book, Wright In Racine. That small quibble aside, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about Frank Lloyd Wright's unique contribution to modern architecture.
Image via Pomegranate