Travel: Chasing Frank Lloyd Wright to the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo

As a lover of the great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, I’ve always looked to visit his masterpieces. From Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob in Pennsylvania, to Taliesin and the Johnson Wax Building  in Wisconsin, to Hollyhock and the Storer House in California – if Wright designed it, I’ll travel to see it.

Unfortunately, history put one of the eccentric genius’ masterworks outside the U.S. forever out of my reach. His landmark work with the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo no longer stands — giving way to more modern renovations.

Fortunately, the Imperial Hotel – a short walk from Tokyo’s Imperial Palace – honors its history with Wright, keeping many flares of his design throughout the hotel in the form of preserved stained glass windows and other little details.

When commissioned to design a new version of the Imperial Hotel in the early 1920s (after the previous building was earthquake damaged), Wright’s signature Mayan influenced building opened for business in 1023.

Using Wright’s unique rolling foundation, his Imperial Hotel survived an immediate challenge when an earthquake hit it soon after opening.

Also: Travel: Treading Softly at Japan’s Itsukushima Shrine

The hotel survived that immediate threat. However, the rattling it suffered during WWII bombing and various firestorms doomed the historic design. In 1968, the hotel was torn down and replaced by a more modern tower.

However, the minds behind the modern Imperial Hotel never forsake their relationship with the great American architect. Besides a historical exhibit in the lobby highlighting the significance of Wright’s 1923 design, the current hotel preserves artifacts from Wright’s work and re-creates some of his signature geometrical stained glass windows throughout the hotel’s lobby and shopping areas.

So, while Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel can no longer offer a glimpse of Wright’s work in its totality, there’s enough of an echo there to warrant an architectural pilgrimage of its own.