The iconic entrance courtyard of Wright's Imperial Hotel
The Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, Japan, was created in the late 1880s at the request of the Japanese aristocracy to cater to the increasing number of western visitors to Japan. The hotel site is located just south of the Imperial Palace grounds, next to the previous location of the Palace moat. The modern hotel overlooks the Palace, the 40-acre (16 ha) western-style Hibiya Park, and the Ginza neighborhood. Three buildings have stood on the hotel site, each of which embodied the finest western design of its era.
The original Imperial Hotel, designed by Yuzuru Watanabe (1890s)
The original Imperial Hotel in Tokyo was completed in 1890, backed by key Japanese leaders, such as Foreign Minister Count Inoue Kaoru and Viscount Shibusawa Eiichi. Architect Yuzuru Watanabe designed the hotel, known as "Watanabe House", in the German neo-Renaissance style. French cuisine was the official banquet fare of the Imperial Palace, and the Imperial Hotel followed that tradition. By 1917, the hotel was no longer able to accommodate the growing number of visitors, and the design was seen as outdated. To replace the original wooden structure, the owners commissioned a design by Frank Lloyd Wright. Watanabe's Imperial Hotel burned down in 1919.
The entrance courtyard of Wright's Imperial Hotel, as recreated in the Meiji-Mura Museum
Entrance Hall, which survived and is located now in the Meiji Mura Museum
The second Imperial Hotel, built from 1915-1923, was the best-known of Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings in Japan. It was designed roughly in the shape of its own logo, with the guest room wings forming the letter "H", while the public rooms were in a smaller but taller central wing shaped like the letter "I" that cut through the middle of the "H".
Hotel stands undamaged as a monument of your genius hundreds of homeless provided by perfectly maintained service congratulations[.] Congratulations[.]
Wright passed the telegram to journalists, helping to perpetuate a legend that the hotel was unaffected by the earthquake. In reality, the building had been damaged; the central section slumped, several floors bulged, and four pieces of stonework fell to the ground. The building's main failing was its foundation. Wright had intended the hotel to float on the site's alluvial mud "as a battleship floats on water". This was accomplished by making it shallow, with broad footings. This was supposed to allow the building to float during an earthquake. However, the foundation was an inadequate support and did nothing to prevent the building from sinking into the mud to such an extent that it had to be demolished decades later. Furthermore, alluvial mud, such as that at the hotel's site, amplifies seismic waves.
However, the hotel had several design features that minimized potential earthquake damage:
The reflecting pool provided a source of water for fire-fighting, saving the building from the post-earthquake firestorm;
Cantilevered floors and balconies provided extra support for the floors;
A copper roof eliminated the risk of falling debris created by traditional tile roofs;
The hotel came through World War II unscathed, despite the devastating bombings of Tokyo by the Americans. It was commandeered for a period by the Occupation forces and managed by the U.S. Government, before being returned to its owners. As the guest wings of the Wright building were only three stories tall, it actually had relatively few guest rooms, and so a new tower wing was constructed directly behind Wright's building in the 1950s.
The hotel eventually slipped into decay as time took its toll. In a controversial decision, it was decided to demolish the old hotel and replace it with a high-rise structure, to maximize the use of land.
While most of Wright's building was destroyed, the iconic central lobby wing and the reflecting pool were disassembled and rebuilt at The Museum Meiji Mura, a collection of buildings (mostly from the Meiji Era) in Inuyama, near Nagoya, where they are open to the public.
A modern hotel tower was constructed on the site of Wright's building in 1968, and a tower addition was added in the 1980s.
While the Imperial Hotel was originally owned and partly funded by the imperial family, the current owner is Imperial Hotel, Ltd., which runs a chain of luxury hotels in Japan. Princess Sayako, now Sayako Kuroda, was married here in 2005.