Frank Lloyd Wright's SC Johnson Research Tower in Racine, Wisconsin, is one of modern architecture's most significant landmarks. Completed in 1950, the fifteen-story skyscraper is the only existing example of Wright's ambitious taproot design. Like limbs from a tree trunk, alternating square floors and round mezzanines branch out from the weight-bearing central core—a truly revolutionary idea at the time and an engineering marvel today.
In 1943 H. F. Johnson Jr., president of the SC Johnson & Son Company, commissioned Wright (1867-1959) to create a new laboratory space that would be as innovative as the research and development team working inside it. The architect eagerly accepted the challenge, envisioning a vertical complement to the firm's streamlined Administration Building, designed by Wright seven years prior. The result was a new kind of skyscraper, one with double-height spaces, windows made of Pyrex glass tubing, and stripes of Wright's signature Cherokee red brick, all balanced on a small pedestal base—the Tower's sinewy core. Although the Tower opened to great acclaim in 1950, it closed just thirty-one years later. Despite its ingenious structure, the building ultimately proved to be an impractical model of urban-industrial architecture.
Author Mark Hertzberg discusses the history of Wright's remarkable SC Johnson Research Tower. Hertzberg is the author and photographer of Wright in Racine, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hardy House, and Frank Lloyd Wright's SC Johnson Research Tower. Hertzberg is also director of photography of The Journal Times in Racine and serves on the board of the Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin Tourism Heritage Program.