Fortaleza Hall and the Commons

In 1935 H F Johnson Jr – chairman of S C Johnson – embarked on a remarkable 15,000-mile flight to Brazil in a Sikorsky-38 amphibious plane in search of a sustainable source of natural wax: the Carnaúba palm tree. Sixty-three years later, Johnson’s son Sam retraced that flight in a replica of the Carnaúba plane to complete a historic family journey. Located on the S C Johnson headquarters campus in Wisconsin, the project creates two companion buildings: Fortaleza Hall, which provides a permanent home for the replica Carnaúba and conveys the extraordinary story of H F Johnson’s flight; and the Commons, which gives the campus a new social heart.

An initial masterplanning study of the campus revealed the ideal development site, adjacent to Frank Lloyd Wright’s celebrated ‘Johnson Wax’ office building and research tower. The new buildings anchor an area conceived as a ‘town square’, the Community Building being close in spirit to a collegiate ‘commons’. In contrast to the more solid and internalised Wright buildings, Fortaleza Hall is completely transparent, with an oval form designed to give a 360-degree view of the Carnaúba. Visitors are able to view the aircraft suspended in mid-air, as if in flight. Alongside it, are photographs of the original plane and mementoes of the two expeditions.  

The Commons accommodates a wide range of staff facilities, including a restaurant, shops and gymnasium. It is conceived as a gathering place, where Johnson’s staff can meet and spend time together. Essentially a rectangular building, it curves in on one side to follow the form of Fortaleza Hall. With its load-bearing Kasota stone walls, it forms a visual counterpoint to the steel and glass structure of the hall, echoing the surrounding masonry buildings. The two buildings are linked by a glazed atrium and lift lobby, which connects via an undercroft to the matrix of tunnels that form the principal communications network through the campus. 

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