Johnson Wax Museum – F.L . Wright – Discussion 14

Routines can be tiresome and is often found to bar creativity with its exasperating repetition.  Breaking the tedious routine while providing inspiration was the purpose behind our discussion this Tuesday – and who else to inspire better than one of the great masters of architecture, and the father of organic architecture – F.L.Wright.

The twenty –seven minute long video that was selected for our viewing featured one of Wright’s landmark building-namely Johnson Wax museum.

The video begins with the 70-year old Wright bearing witness to the strength testing of his now-famous canopied-column that was to be a major feature of the Johnson wax building. The video shows the engineers load the column with double the estimated tonnage leading to its collapse while the old architect watches thoughtfully.

The fact that the museum now sports these very columns is a testimony to Wright’s shrewd structural knowledge.  Wright strengthened these hollow columns with honeycomb shaped reinforcement material that helped distribute the load evenly and allowed it to withstand more load – one of the many features of this remarkable building.

The Building which was meant to be a new-age symbol to the Johnson wax company sports a single entrance – to access which one has to walk all around the building , taking in the smooth monumentality of its exposed brick texture with no openings to reveal a clue of the inside. The entry is not emphasized and is accessed from the parking area. A visitor then walks into a great hall (25m*65M), double height, divided into three parallel bays supported by hollow columns, diameter tapering to 20cm and attached to a brass holder allowing slight movement making the building earthquake resistant.  The columns spring into a canopy at the top supporting the roof. Where there could be a cornice are Pyrex tubes that bathe the insides with natural light. The hall has no openings and hence no noise penetrates the building. An occupant likens the experience of working in the building to being in a pine forest.

The room of the director of the company and the supervisors overlook the great hall and all the partitions within the building made of Pyrex tubes, which allows light in while also protecting the privacy of occupants.

The video ended on an inspiring note – with a brief review about the tripling of the profits of the company – and increased efficiency of employees after the building was occupied. This sound proof, earthquake proof, vermin proof building stands testimony to the genius of Wright and provides hope to the likes of us, aspiring architects!

The discussion then turned to the passion and dedication that our profession demands – not to mention the degree of courage that Wright possessed to design this totally novel structure and see it to its completion.  A wry comment about the rarity of the clients like Johnson and opportunities to truly explore brought about a wave of cynicism … but soon gave way to high romanticism as we contemplated the universality of good design.

We left the discussion convinced that through the various styles of architecture , what remains constant is the urge of their creators to explore history and contemplate on it – and these very reflections are transformed into creating that transcend time…

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