1936: Johnson Wax Building
Innovation: Dendriform columns
Location: Racine, WI
Inventor: Frank Lloyd Wright
Wright was inspired to create the dendriform columns by observing that trees in a forest generate space and allows light to enter easily. He designed the columns 21 feet high, 31 feet in the lobby, tapering from 22-inch diameter at the top to a 9-inch bronze base. Within was hidden a rainwater pipe, which was intended to avoid water leaks. Wright intuitively drafted the conoid form that exactly follow the line of stresses from roof to base. He made the upper part of the column hollow, its walls only 3.5 inches thick, and continued them into the 2.5 inch thick petal with its supporting ribs.
Refusing to accept the engineering calculations, the building department demanded that the new column be tested with a load of 24,000 pounds, twice the full design load. A crane dumped load after load of pig iron on the column. When the load reached the 24,000 pound required, Wright insisted they keep going and see how far the column could go before the point of destruction. At 60 tons, it was carrying 5 times the test requirements. This new technology proved Wright’s ability to design a practical column without limiting its aesthetic design.