Herbert Johnson House "Wingspread"

Before there were Lincoln Logs, there was Frank Lloyd Wright. Before there was Frank Lloyd Wright, there was Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel or, more simply, Froebel. He, according to Wikipedia: “laid the foundation for modern education based on the recognition that children have unique needs and capabilities.” We now know that particular and important foundational time period as Kindergarten.

Sign outside Wingspread

The Froebel Influence

Friedrich Froebel established the first system for educating young children; it included certain educational toys known as Froebel Blocks. If you have ever seen or know of Froebel Blocks, you are likely aware these wood blocks, in various shapes, sizes and quantities, were powerful “toys” when it came to educating children. Famous examples of children educated with the Froebel materials include, among many others, Frank Lloyd Wright.

It would not be a great stretch of one’s imagination to accept that Frank Lloyd Wright’s early comprehension of the meaning of Froebel materials – i.e., Froebel Blocks – had an incredible impact on the young architect-to-be. It may have been influential, ultimately leading to the young man understanding what Froebel originally intended: the blocks should demonstrate the interconnectedness of form and materials that was so omnipresent in all of Wright’s designs.

Main entrance at Wingspread

The Nature of Wingspread

One amazing example is Wright’s Wingspread, the home he designed for the Herbert Fisk “Hibs” Johnson (the grandson of S. C. Johnson) family on Four Mile Road in Wind Point, Wisconsin, just north of Racine. It was commissioned circa 1936 – about the same time as Wright was commissioned to design and build the Administration Building for S. C. Johnson – for H. F. Johnson’s Family. Completed in 1939, Wright named it named Wingspread due to its four wings spreading out from a central core living space.

Lego model of Wingspread

By Wright’s own statement, it was the last of the Prairie houses and he considered it his most expensive house to date... Its plan is like the shape of a pinwheel, with four wings of the home extending outward from a central, three story high octagon (as shown by the Lego model at Wingspread in the photo above). The space is zoned, with separate spaces for sleeping (north or parent’s wing), a children’s area (east wing), kitchen and servants area (south wing) and storage area for cars, etc. in the west wing and a public space in the center.

One of the 5 fireplaces in the Great Hall

The home itself – an incredible 14,000 sq. ft. design – is set on a thirty-acre parcel of property and features a large, centrally-located 30-foot-high chimney within the Great Hall, offering a total of five fireplaces: four on the main level and a vertical fireplace on the mezzanine level. The massive chimney also divides the living room area into four additional areas: entrance, living room, dining room and library. The main entry is Wright-typical: low door-heights and cramped entry area that suddenly opens wide to the Great Hall.

Spiral staicase leading to the tower

Family Requests

Two signature features of the home are the glass-enclosed “crow’s nest” lookout in the central core and the cantilevered “Juliet balcony” at the far end of the north wing (both requests of the children). Floor-to-ceiling windows force one’s eyes upward to the stunning clerestory ceiling – encircled by three additional rows of smaller windows – and to the heavens above; various lighting patterns dance inside the home with the changing light of the day.

Cantilevered Juliet balcony

Pink Kasota limestone from Minnesota, red Streator brick with the patented horizontal accent lines, tinted stucco and unstained cypress wood are the primary building materials present in the home and tie it elegantly to the surrounding and gently rolling prairie.

On the south side of the home is a huge swimming pool, featuring side walls that are undercut from the edges, allowing them to seemingly disappear and leaving only the water. Carports in the west wing of the home have been converted to office space and the structure now serves as a conference center operated by the Johnson Corporation, to whom the house was donated in 1959.

 Even though Wright himself was pleased with the overall construction of Wingspread – “...the materials of construction and the workmanship throughout are everywhere substantial." – the home was unfortunately plagued by the same malady as most of his designs: the roof leaked. This happened at an important dinner party that H.F. was having. Johnson called the architect on the phone and told him the leak was dripping upon his head. Wright was reported to have answered: “move your chair.

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More Information

Wingspread feature at dusk

Location

33 East 4 Mile Road
Wind Point, Wisconsin
Map
 

Tours

Wingspread is available for tours by advance appointment only.  Grounds are not available for weddings or other social gatherings.

Interior and exterior photography is allowed.

Quick Links

LINCOLN LOGS –Collector's Edition Village – 327 Pieces – For Ages 3+

 

The Wright State: Frank Lloyd Wright in Wisconsin