Interlude – Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel

Garden, Pool, North Bridge and Elevator Housings.

Although Paradise Leased is essentially a blog dedicated to Southern California’s historic architecture on occasion we like to veer from the text if we feel it merits doing so. I recently rediscovered a set of photos and plans from one of the great lost buildings of the world – Frank Lloyd Wright‘s stunning Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan and wanted to share. These photos appeared in the April 1923 issue of The Architectural Record and accompanied an article by the great Louis H. Sullivan himself. I thought you would enjoy seeing the pictures and floor plans as well as some excerpts from Sullivan’s florid text and mourn with me the loss of this visionary masterwork.

Roof of Pergola, Looking into Garden Courts

This great work is the masterpiece of Frank Lloyd Wright, a great free spirit, whose fame as a master of ideas is an accomplished world-wide fact.

Entrance to Social Group

In this structure is not to be found a single form distinctly Japanese; nor that of any other country; yet in its own individual form, its mass, and subsidiaries, its evolution of plan and development of thesis; in its sedulous care for niceties of administration, and for the human sense of joy it has expressed, in inspiring form as an epic poem, addressed to the Japanese people, their innermost thought.

End Pavilion

In a sense it is a huge association of structures; a gathering of the clans, so to speak.; it is a seeming aggregate of buildings shielding beauteous gardens, sequestered among them. Yet there hovers over all, and as an atmosphere everywhere, a sense of primal power in singleness of purpose; a convincing quiet that bespeaks a master hand, guiding and governing.

North Wing and Jinrikisha Approach.

Upon further analysis…it is disclosed that the structure is not a group, but a single mass; spontaneously subdividing into subsidiary forms in groups or single, as the main function itself flows into varied phases, each seeking expression in appropriate correlated forms, each and all bearing evidence of one controlling mind, of one hand moulding materials like a master craftsman.

Detail of Pergola, showing relation of lava and brick.

The dispositions throughout the entire building are so so dexterously interwoven that the structure as a whole becomes a humanized fabric, in any part of which one feels the all-pervading sense of continuity, and of intimate relationships near and far.

Sunken Garden, North Bridge and Social Group.

In this especial sense the structure, carrying the thought, is unique among hotel buildings throughout the world. Japan is to be felicitated that its superior judgment in the selection of an architect of masterly qualifications, of such nature as to welcome new problems of time and place, has been justified.

Looking across Entrance Pool to Side Wing.

The longer the contemplation of this work is continued, the more intense becomes the conviction that this Master of Ideas has not only performed a service of distinction, but, far and above this, has presented to the people of Japan, as a freewill offering, a great gift which shall endure for all generations to come as a world exemplar, most beautiful and inspiring, of which Japan may well be proud among the nations as treasuring it in sole possession.

Main Promenade.

The Imperial Hotel stands unique as the high water mark thus far attained by any modern architect. Superbly beautiful it stands – a noble prophecy.

(Via Architalk)

The Imperial Hotel went down in 1968. Here is its replacement.

(Via Architalk)

Progress is inevitable and it is certainly not always bad, but there are times when progress, no matter the immediate profit it may generate, must be halted in the face of sheer genius. Is the world better off today because this run down old building was replaced by a much bigger, more efficient high rise?

For a great blog post on the Imperial Hotel’s history (with more photos) check out Todd Larson’s excellent Architalk post here.

(Via Architalk)

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11 Responses to Interlude – Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel

  1. Patrick McGrew says:

    Great Post! Preservation wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if the replacement projects were better than the demolished ones. Sadly, this is rarely the case.



  2. TheArtist says:

    Wow, Great Job Steve! Thanks for stepping outside of the box for this one, loved it!

  3. Steven says:

    What an absolute waste of good taste and beauty….

  4. Pingback: Imperial Hotel, Tokyo « mid-century MODERN LOVE

  5. Dee says:

    I had the great good fortune to visit the Imperial Hotel when I was 7 years old. My parents were meeting a friend at the hotel for a meal and I was with them. My parents, both Chicago born (as am I) were fans of FLW (my dad lived in Oak Park where there were several FLW homes within a few blocks) so they were excited to be inside the Imperial Hotel. What I remember is that is was cool, a bit dark and was an amazing structure that created emotion as well as visual glory. No photo relays the spirit and vibrancy of the building. Wright was still revered in Japan when I lived there in the late 1950’s. There were those who remembered that the Imperial Hotel was just about the only structure left standing after the devastating 1923, 7.9 earthquake and subsequent firestorm. The bland and boring structure that replaced the Imperial Hotel is tragic. INHO, anything that replaced the Imperial Hotel could not compare.

  6. Claudio says:

    Sorry, I\’m going against the stream.
    FLW designed that hotel making a huge effort.
    He copied himself with the addition of too much wasabi sauce.
    His proverbial clean lines that formed the spaces according to their use were weighed down by frills that will probably only served to sweeten the pill of its innovative architecture for Japan.
    I can understand that architecture should follow the \’genius loci\’, but this is a bad example.

    • Macrodex says:

      I hope you know that Wright’s prime inspiration was the Ho-o-Den, shown at the Chicago World’s Fair, and had an extensive love-affair with Japanese culture [taking his grid system from the tatami mats]; so, the idea of “too much wasabi sauce” seems uneducated. The so-called “frills” you mention in no way weigh anything down — if that can even be quantified; every line and every piece within was executed with not only form in mind, but, function. Beyond that, Imperial Hotel is neither a bad example of architecture, nor Wright’s work; he may have had some poor designs here and there, but, Imperial was not, is not, and will never be one of them.

      • irombeach says:

        Macrodex, thanks for your lesson in architecture.
        However, I remain ‘uneducated’.at least for the Imperial Hotel,
        And certainly for my spoken and written english.

  7. sepiastories says:

    What a gorgeous loss. I just finished T.C Boyle’s The Women, which described some of Wright’s inspiration and his building of this hotel. I feel a special closeness to Wright and Sullivan. My cousin, Crombie Taylor, an architect in his own right, was a Sullivan preservationist, fighting like a tiger to keep his works from being torn down (a notable example being the Van Allen Building in Clinton, Iowa). While researching our family genealogy, I became close to his children, who have a photo of him with Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright is pointing up with his cane as they examine the Auditorium Building in Chicago; supposedly he was trying to remember whether he or Sullivan had designed a certain feature.

  8. Pingback: Frank Lloyd Wright – Architect Spotlight – Charlie Wilke

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