FLW in Japan

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American architects have a great love for the Japanese sensitivity to design and architecture in general. Or let me rephrase, architects have a great respect for the Japanese sense of building and quite rightly so. From the mid-80s architects have thronged to Japan to study Tokyo and in general visit the country that is magnificently steeped in natural beauty, hit by disaster unlike any another and yet emerged a rising sun every single time. The greatest American architect who is deeply inspired by nature, likening it to Godliness, who was the inspiration to Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead and a man who dared to think for himself even if it was different, Frank Llyod Wright. Born this very day roughly 149 years ago Wright designed several buildings including my favourites, the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Falling Waters Residence in southern Pennsylvania.

Wright made his first foreign trip in 1905 at the age of 38 to Japan, he was deeply influenced by the perspective of the Japanese when it came to building and his architecture ever since bears a reference to the Japanese love for nature and building with sensitivity to the environment. Though the Imperial hotel is Wright’s most popular building in Japan, precisely in Tokyo, built for the increasing number of western tourists in the 1910s at the behest of the Japanese aristocracy, the Yodoko Guesthouse in Awaji is a fine example of the architecture of Frank Llyod Wright. Built as a summer villa, the guest house was designed in 1918 and built 6 years later. The architectural expression of the guesthouse includes high quality woodwork, small windows that dot the upper level of the rooms and several enclosures divided by screens and furnished with Tatami mats.

Though parts of the guest-house has been refurbished since, the main drawing room and dining rooms are intact as designed by Wright. Known for his love of detailing, Wright designs not just the house but also every integral part of the interiors including furniture and products, even influencing mostly the kind of art exhibited on the walls. The layout of the guest-house is not the usual with the public spaces of the house including the drawing room and the dining room levels sandwiched by  level of private living spaces.  A very classical staircase is also included providing a vertical connection between the levels. The drawing room as first envisaged is filled with octagonal tables and art-deco chairs with an attached pantry. A level above are the private areas of the house above which are placed the formal dining and kitchen on the highest level. The dining room opens into a terrace that is adorned by a spectacular view of the Awaji island and the sea.

The house is further towered by a chimney that runs through the height of the building warming up intermittently the indoor spaces. The Yodoko Guesthouse has several Japanese characteristics but it essentially is American in spirit, mostly FLW in make. The attention to detail is immaculate and the finish adorably art deco. The smaller windows aid ventilation and the larger ones bring in ample sunshine into the indoor spaces. Covered in Oya stone, an igneous rock created from lava and ash the house shares its facade material with that of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. The stone is fireproof and very vernacular to it’s context. Wright excels as an architect with a vision whose buildings stand the test of time both qualitatively and quantitatively!

Just as the master says,

“Nature is my manifestation of God. I go to Nature everyday for inspiration in the day’s work. I follow in building the principles which nature has used in it’s domain.”

and decidedly, the mother of art is architecture!


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