The Cool House: Steelcase and Frank Lloyd Wright

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Steelcase and Frank Lloyd Wright


I posted yesterday about seeing Steelcase office furniture everywhere after I received the two MCM chairs. Last week I came across the name while viewing one of the more interesting sections of the Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward exhibition at The Guggenheim Museum: the SC Johnson Building in Racine, Wisconsin.


In 1936 Wright worked with Steelcase to produce modular steel and formica desks and chairs in his signature Cherokee Red for the SC Johnson Wax Administration Building that Life Magazine called the "most inspirational office building of the twentieth century".


If you fall in love with the sensuous curves of the furniture you can purchase your very own Frank Lloyd Wright Johnson Wax 1 Writing Desk and Johnson Wax 2 Chair, although today they are no longer produced by Steelcase but by Italian furniture maker Cassina.



In 2001 Frédéric Compain made a fascinating documentary about the Johnson Wax Building as part of the Architects series. Part 1/3 above, click the links for part 2/3 and part 3/3. It not only shows employees at their work stations but explores Wright's belief that efficiency is affected by the surrounding office environment. (Note: the documentary is in French and although there is an English voice-over they haven't translated the written quotes. It would appear they spoke French in Wisconsin in the 1930s!)


The Steelhouse company has furthered their association with the architect, away from the industrial to the residential, by supporting the restoration of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park Illinois


and, in the 1980s, purchasing and fully restoring the Meyer May House in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Take the online tour here.
Steelcase is also sponsoring a Symposium on September 10 2009 to explore the relevance of Frank Lloyd Wright to 21st century architecture and design.

7 comments:

Jenni said...

The SC Johnson building has always been one of my favorites of Wright's work.

modernemama said...

The Guy was there last fall - totally awed. He also visited Steelcase Europe offices years ago

Julia @ Hooked on Houses said...

Great post! I loved learning a few new things about FLW. It's funny, I've seen documentaries about the office building but didn't remember the furniture, really. So cool.

Can you imagine how loud it was in that big room with all of those typewriters going, back in the day?

modernemama said...

Julia, the construction of the building and materials used muffled the sound and diffused the light making for a tranquil working environment. It's the same in our house, the noise stays in each area - even though it's open plan and there's a double-storey room there are no echoes- that's the test of a great architect: designing for people.
But I don't think I would have got any work done at the SC Johnson building - I'd be too in awe of the architecture and the furniture.

Jenni said...

Lucky Guy.

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