Archive 2011

Travel Snapshots - Johnson Wax Headquarters

During a trip to the USA in August, I drove 90 minutes from Chicago to Racine, Wisconsin to visit the SC Johnson Wax Headquarters. The industrial campus has been famous for the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Administration Building and Research Tower which captured architectural inspirations since the 1930's and 1950's respectively.

A recent addition to the place is the Fortaleza Hall designed by Foster + Partners.  Opened in 2010, the hall presents to visitors items related to the Johnson's Family and their business philosophy.  Together with the facility building featuring curved corners behind, the new complex houses staff facilities such as dining, banking, a fitness centre and a library / reading room dedicated to Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture.

The Golden Rondelle Theatre


Photo by Vincent Lam

Arriving early in the morning, I checked into the visitor centre underneath the Golden Rondelle Theatre.  The theatre itself has an interesting history.  The UFO-shaped theatre was originally designed by Lippincott and Margulies as the futuristic Johnson Wax Pavillion for the 1964-65 New York's World's Fair.  After the fair, it was dismantled and brought back to Racine.  Taliesin Associated Architects, who were students of Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture school, was commissioned to redesign the structure to complement Wright's buildings nearby.  The result is a structure with shapes and colours which reminded me of Wright's Gammate Auditorium at Arizona State University I visited a week earlier.

Fortaleza Hall


Photo by Vincent Lam

I booked in for two tours, one to the Fortaleza Hall and the other to the Administration Building.  These tours are available free of charge to the public, following this link to reserve your place if you can fit this into our trip to America.  We were then lead to the glass cylinder appearing to support the circular plate roof with ten thin columns.  The central exhibit is the Carnaúba Airplane built by Sam Johnson during the 1990's.  It is a replica of his father's old aircraft which flew to Fortaleza (Brazil) in the 1930's to source an important ingredient for the major product of the company.  With this new plane, he and his two sons followed the exact route in a late 1990's expedition.

After Sam's death in 2004, the family decided to build the hall with the aircraft as the focus.  It is hung from the roof and appears to be taking off from the hall.  The interior of the hall is minimalist, with a void looking down to the basement level accessed through two grand circular staircases.  Between ground and upper floor is an open staircase over a reflecting pool, as one goes up, there is a soil-free vertical garden with South American native plants to the right.  The upper floor dining area features a balcony with a gentle curved shape leading everyone's eyes towards the focal point.

Unfortunately we were not allowed to take interior photographs, but interior photographs are available from here.

Research Tower


Photo by Vincent Lam

After a short break we headed off to the Frank Lloyd Wright designed buildings.  As the Research Tower is now closed to public, we were only able to see it from the outside.  It opened in 1950 and is one of the tallest buildings ever constructed on the cantilever principle.  The central concrete core supports all the floors alternating between a circular and square floor plates.  Like the Administration Building, the windows were formed from Pyrex glass tubings.

The research team used the building for 30 years but their requirements for space outgrew the building in the late 1970's and they had to move to a larger premises nearby.  Under the current fire regulations, the building in it's current form cannot be used due to the lack of a second fire staircase, however, it remained a symbol of the company and continued to be lit at night like a lighthouse.

Administration Building


Photo © by Jeff Dean from Wikipedia

The Administration Building was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright to be a "Centre of Creativity".  The most famous detail of the building is the mushroom-like dendriform columns supporting a circular plate.  The gaps between these plates were filled with Pyrex glass tubings to act as skylights.  The filtered light through these tubes produces a well lit interior most of the time so that the employees can work in this open office arrangement without the need of artificial light.  The building is 70 years old but it still functions well despite the dramatic change in office environment since its opening.

Looking at the group of buildings above, I believe Foster + Partners has produced a great design to add to the existing world famous architecture on the campus.  The circular floating plate roof is a tribute to the Wrightian column top in the Administration Building.  All the curved corners of the facility building are apparently drawn from the Research Tower while the overall circular shape of the hall works well with the The Golden Rondelle Theatre.  This is an exceptional example of designing contemporary architecture to fit in the immediate surroundings without mimicking the neighbours.

Foster + Partners' work, Deutsche bank, is part of our Sydney City Architecture Walk available every Saturday mornings and Wednesday nights until early December.  Come and see how his work adds to Sydney's skyline.  Although we do not have any Frank Lloyd Wright designs in Sydney, we have his apprentice, Walter Burley Griffin planning the entire suburb and designing some houses in Castlecrag.  We have two Castlecrag Walks which will be available again early in the new year, stay tuned!


Further Information:


- Vincent Lam





Featured Project - Hill Plains House


Architect: Wolveridge Architects
Photography: Derek Swalwell

The rectilinear plan form of the building is based in agricultural construction and considers the integration of object and landscape. This idea is drawn from Victorian era farm structures of the region where buildings were developed largely on pragmatic terms.

The building structure is typical of portal frame construction, incorporating 5 x 4m modules. The rectilinear plan is punctured by a service core, forming an axial nature within the plan.


The main living room, centrally located on the plan provides a protected outdoor alternative in most wind conditions. Large oversized custom 250 x 31mm blackbutt cladding of the building's ends incorporate framed views and organizes the building program with central living/services core and sleeping zones cradled in timber at each end.

An attempt to create an ‘Australianness' with a rugged exterior, characterized by a palette of natural materials, a sense of craftsmanship and childhood reminder of growing up in the 70's.


Consciously, the house employs non-domestic materials steel/concrete/recycled timber/concrete masonry. A dark interior draws the eye to the external vista reinforcing the connection with site, such as the view from the shower; a large frameless window overlooking a natural grass amphitheatre with magnificent gum tree in the distance. This palette incorporates a number of recycled timbers including internal plywood wall and ceiling lining recycled from Pilkington site delivery crates. The sheets come in 2400x600 complete with nails, markings and are finished using a black penetrating stain.


The vaulted ceiling lining is off-cuts from structural beams milled for recycled flooring. Elsewhere recycled Baltic pine flooring is used to line a large sliding wall panel and basement hatch, due to its light weight. The natural finish provides a warm contrast to the otherwise black stains.

The master bedroom wall is lined entirely from an old pack of recycled hardwood flooring. Pergola posts are of recycled turpentine. The off-grid dwelling is highly insulated, ventilates naturally and is powered by a 2kw solar/battery system with remotely located sub-ground backup generator.

After dusk the interior takes on a soft character with a low level of lighting and large living room windows sheen with illuminated curtains. This statement reinforces the importance of the juncture between the interior/exterior and context of the region as a primary contributor to contemporary interior thinking.1110a6

Winner of 2011 Australian Institute of Architects Sustainability Awards in Victoria

Sydney Architecture Festival 2011

SAF201120-30 October 2010

The Annual Sydney Architecture Festival turns everyone's focus to the city's architecture and aims to engage the public in exploring aspects of the built environment.

The AAA has some great tours planned again for SAF 2011, also following our successful exhibitions held during the Festival in previous years, we are holding the Unseen Duplain exhibition at the Tusculum, Potts Point.

Learn more about Sydney architecture by going on the Sydney City Architecture Walk on Saturday mornings (22 October & 29 October)  and Wednesday evening (26 October).  Also join our special Bar Tour (25 October) and discover the latest trends in Sydney's bar design with the AAA trained guides.

To celebrate the festival, we are offering all these tours during the festival at a special price of $20 ($10 for students).  As in all our other walking tours, AAA members can book online anytime and join these Festival tours for free to feel the architecture vibe!

Events for the Festival will be held across the City of Sydney and will also feature talks, exhibitions and much more. For more information on the Festival, visit

Travel Snapshots - Largen House


Photo by Vanessa Couzens

Largent House is a modest residence designed by the architect Richard Joseph Neutra (b. 1892- d. 1970) in 1935.

Neutra was an Austrian trained designer who grew up in Vienna during a time of great advances in Architecture, the Arts and the human sciences. He studied under and worked for one of the precursors of modernism, Adolf Loos before the outbreak of World War I. After the war he completed his studies of architecture and went to work in Berlin for the Architect Erich Mendelsohn. As a resident of Europe he witnessed first hand the rise of the Bauhaus and De Stihl schools.

In 1923 he migrated to the United States, where he briefly worked for Frank Lloyd Wright and later achieved significant recognition for his work as a practicing architect. During his lifetime he completed a huge portfolio of work within the United States, Europe, South America and Asia. Most of his projects were residential and were concentrated around Los Angeles and the California region.

Heavily influenced in his architectural ideology by his teacher Adolf Loos, Neutra was fascinated with the creation of utilitarian buildings that capitalised on modern building technologies and standardisation.

Richard Neutra completed only a small number of residences in San Francisco. Built on the side of Twin Peaks, Largent House is located on the corner of Hopkins and Burnett Avenues. It was completed in an economy still recovering from the Great Depression. Largent House was an anomaly of Neutra's work, in it's humble scale and more conventional construction out of timber, rather then steel framing and timber cladding. However, it shares a common theme with Neutra's other work in it's preoccupation with what Richard Neutra termed ‘biorealism'.

Neutra believed in the profound effect the built environment could have on the wellbeing of it's occupants. The health, both physical and spiritual, of the occupant should always take precedence over engineering or financial considerations. His ethos in building was to create structures that reduced their visual impact in the landscape. He believed that buildings should facilitate the trajectory of the eye out to nature, the landscape and sky.


Photo by Vanessa Couzens

Largent House, on a small scale, illustrates how Neutra would often capitalise on early zoning rules and push the built envelope toward the edge of the street face. At street level the façade is closed off from public view. By enclosing the lower levels, he created privacy for the occupants and space for an indoor swimming pool.

Water is a common theme in the Architect's work as he associated it with promoting physical health. In the upper levels of the residence, large windows and sliding glass doors onto balcony space, open out the interiors to outstanding views across the northeast. Now painted white, the residence was originally a slate blue colour. There was a later addition (not by the architect) added on the Western side of the residence.

If you are interested in seeing more of Neutra's work check out the Richard and Dion Neutra Architecture website.

- Vanessa Couzens

President's Letter

AAA-KSJIt has been a busy month for the AAA with record numbers of architecture enthusiasts joining our tours. No doubt much of this interest has been spurred on by Sydney Design but we have also received enquiries from private organisations both here and overseas looking for something special for their groups.  It is always gratifiying for our volunteers when they have a full complement to lead and it increases the excitment and interest of all on the tours or walks.

Earlier this month tour leader, Robert Morley took a group of 12 school students and their teacher on a walk through some of Sydney's most iconic buildings and later in the month Robert and I escorted an enthusiastic group on the Sydney Bar Tour.

Tour leader Vanessa Couzens' Sculpture of the City Walk was another well attended tour as were our Sydney Architecture Walks, Surry Hills Walk and Castlecrag Walks. The Northern Suburbs Residential Bus Tour was attended by more than 35 visitors who thoroughly enjoyed the diversity of architecture from modern, modestly priced apartments through to the wonderful home built by Russell Jack in the mid 1950s and now owned by interior designer, Annalissa Capurro to the beautiful contemporary homes in Hunters Hill and Mosman.  Lunch at a marvellous restaurant in Hunters Hill was part of the tour, allowing guests to chat and get to know one another more while sampling some of Sydney's finest seafood in a harbourside setting.

A tour leaders' event was held mid-month, providing an opportunity for volunteers to catch up and enjoy a relaxing evening while taking a look at some newly completed projects and meeting with the architects. This month's event included dinner at the Cave restaurant, designed by Koichi Takada and volunteers enjoyed the opportunity to not only eat great Japanese food but to also meet with and talk to Koichi about this rather unique building.

With the warmer weather not too far away we look forward to our twilight events, including the Sydney Bar Tour and City Walks. In September we host the Sunshine Coast Residential Bus Tour and in October, The Sydney Architecture Festival will be in full swing. I look forward to seeing you!