In 1935, HF Johnson Jr. the chairman of SC Johnson & Company - better known as Johnson Wax - embarked on a remarkable flight in a Sikorsky-38 amphibious plane in search of a sustainable source of natural wax: the carnaúba palm tree. In company lore, the 15,000-mile Carnaúba Expedition, from Racine in Wisconsin to Fortaleza in Brazil, holds an almost mythic status, leading as it did to the founding of the Johnson carnaúba plantation in Brazil and Johnson Wax's subsequent development into a global brand. Sixty-three years later, HF Johnson's son Sam retraced that flight in a replica of the Carnaúba plane to complete a historic family journey. Located on the SC Johnson campus in Wisconsin, this project creates two companion buildings: Fortaleza Hall, which provides a home for the replica Carnaúba and celebrates HF Johnson's flight; and the Community Building, which gives the campus a new social heart.

An initial masterplanning study of the campus revealed the ideal development site, close to Frank Lloyd Wright's celebrated SC Johnson Administration 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 view the aircraft suspended in mid-air, as if in flight. Beneath it, an etched mural depicting the Brazilian rainforest and a wooden floor mosaic evoke the spirit of the expedition.

The Community Building 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 entrance atrium and lift lobby, which connects via an undercroft to the matrix of tunnels that form the principal communications network through the campus.

Sketches + Drawings



Facts + Figures

  • Appointment: 2006
  • Completion: 2010
  • Area: 6,317m²
  • Client: S.C. Johnson & Sons Inc.
  • Collaborating Architect: A. Epstein and Sons International Inc.
  • M+E Engineer: Cosentini Associates
  • Landscape Architect: Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd
  • Lighting Engineer: George Sexton Associates
  • Additional Consultants: Ralph Appelbaum Associates Inc., Kirkegaard Associates, Sussman / Prejza & Company, Cini-Little International Inc., EnVise LLC


  • Midwest Construction Best of 2010 Awards: Best Cultural Project & Best Architectural Design

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