Frank Lloyd Wright consulted closely with Steelcase in the development of new forms of desks and chairs, conceived as modular units that further expressed the principles at work in the architecture of the S.C. Johnson and Son Administration Building in Racine, Wis., and supported the work styles of its employees.
It was an early venture into creating a total, integrated office environment. Wright invited David Hunting, Sr., secretary and an owner of Steelcase (then Metal Office Furniture Company), to Taliesin in Spring Green in November, 1936, for a preliminary discussion. Later they met in Racine with Johnson executives. Wright made rough sketches on a piece of paper from his pocket. Steelcase’s engineering department then translated them into preliminary drawings, which Wright modified until he was satisfied. A total of 40 different pieces were designed, including nine variations of the basic desk to accommodate different tasks.
In a 1985 interview, Hunting said,
“Wright really thought about all the different kinds of work that goes on in an office before he began thinking specifically about furniture… Wright once said something about creativity that impressed me so much, I followed on it from then on. He talked about not just making an improvement, but solving the basic need in the best possible way.”
The furniture is still in use at the Johnson headquarters, and in the years since Steelcase has continued to keep in sight the goals shared with Wright, transforming the ways people work through a human-centered design philosophy.