Nature-inspired designs

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:23 am

A new exhibit at S.C. Johnson & Son Inc.’s corporate headquarters in Racine celebrates the architectural innovations of Frank Lloyd Wright with depictions of his Prairie-style homes and a particular emphasis on Wright’s appreciation of nature in his approach to design.

The exhibit is the first in a pivoting series to be featured in “The S.C. Johnson Gallery: At Home with Frank Lloyd Wright.” Free to the public, the gallery recognizes Wright’s efforts as a pioneer in American architecture.

“Wright was always trying to show us that architecture does not have to be imported from another time and place,” said Victor Sidy, dean of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation in Scottsdale, Ariz.

In an era when architecture was heavily influenced by styles of the past, such as the English cottage from the early 1800s and Victorian architecture, Wright insisted architecture could be completely reinvented with the use of glass, steel and concrete among other materials, Sidy said.

Wright began experimenting with more natural materials like wood and stone in his Prairie-Style designs. In using natural materials, Wright relied on the principles of what he later established as organic architecture. He drew much of his inspiration from nature and applied his interpretations of nature to his designs.

“Imitation was a dirty word for Wright,” Sidy said. “He didn’t feel that the job of a good creative person was to imitate, and so he would interpret nature or understand nature and draw from it but never imitate.”

S.C. Johnson’s gallery explains how Wright equally considered the backdrop of his design projects as he selected construction materials that would evoke the power of the space. With Prairie-style designs, Wright concentrated on the power of the horizontal line in connecting the structure with its surroundings, tried to find new ways to stream natural light into his buildings and merged the living room and dining room into one large area without the constrictions of interior doors and partitions.

Wright’s mission largely centered on creating homes in which “you can’t tell where the house begins and nature ends,” as he once famously stated.

“It was just a radical departure from what the American house was, and it really influenced a lot of what followed,” said Brady Roberts, chief curator of the Milwaukee Art Museum and co-curator of the Wright exhibit. Roberts collaborated with Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, one of Wright’s apprentices and the archives director at Taliesin West, in Arizona, in piecing together the gallery and the “Prairie Houses” exhibit.

In addition to displaying images and blueprints of Wright’s Prairie-style homes, the exhibit features furniture and home accessories like a decorative “weed-holder” vase that Wright designed so that all elements of his prairie houses would remain consistent. All artifacts are on long-term loan to S.C. Johnson from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation in Arizona.

The gallery is showcased in S.C. Johnson’s Fortaleza Hall (which received a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certification last year from the U.S. Green Building Council) where visitors can find the Frank Lloyd Wright Research Library, also highlights Wright’s imprint on the company’s campus. Wright developed a close relationship with S.C. Johnson leader H.F. Johnson during the 1930s and, through this relationship, designed both the Administration Building and the Research Tower on the company’s headquarters campus.

“I think for me, when I see the show and in the context of being at the corporate headquarters there, it really shows you how powerful great architecture can be because you’re looking at these very important Frank Lloyd Wright buildings and you’re exploring these early chapters of his architecture,” Roberts said.

In line with Wright’s natural approach to architecture, S.C. Johnson is continuing to build on its natural approach to production and its environmental legacy. In June, the company announced the construction of two wind turbines at its largest manufacturing plant, Waxdale, in Mt. Pleasant. Along with two existing co-generation units that create electrical energy and steam, the turbines will power the facility’s electricity. Together, the wind turbines and co-generation units will on average supply 100 percent of electricity used at Waxdale, which spans the size of 36 football fields and produces S.C. Johnson supplies such as Windex and Pledge.

The wind turbines are expected to be completed by the end of the year.

“This (wind turbine) initiative is a visible symbol of our long legacy to do what’s right for the environment,” said Fisk Johnson, S.C. Johnson chairman and chief executive officer.

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