Imperial Hotel, Tokyo

First Imperial Hotel 1890-1919
The original Imperial Hotel in Tokyo was built in 1890 and burned down by accident in 1919. To replace the original wooden structure, the owners commissioned a design by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Second Imperial Hotel 1923-1968
The second Imperial Hotel, built from 1915-1923, would be 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".

The Frank Lloyd Wright version was designed in the " Maya Revival Style" of architecture. It incorporates a tall, pyramid-like structure, and also loosely copies Maya motifs in its decorations. The main building materials are poured concrete, concrete block, and carved oya stone. The visual effect of the hotel was stunning and dramatic, though not unique; in recent years, architectural historians have noted a marked similarity with the Cafe Australia, Melbourne, Australia (1916) designed by Prairie School architects Marion Mahony and Walter Burley Griffin. The architecture heavily influenced the style of the KÅshien Hotel, which was constructed by Wright's apprentice Arata Endo.

1923 Great Tokyo Earthquake
The structure famously survived the magnitude 8.3 Great KantÅ earthquake of 1923. A telegram from Baron Kihachiro Okura reported the following: Hotel stands undamaged as monument to your genius Congratulations Wright's passing the telegram to journalists has helped perpetuate a legend that the hotel was unaffected by the earthquake. In reality, the building had damage; 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 (visible in the picture above) 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, which cannot fall on people below the way a tile roof can;
  • Seismic separation joints, located about every 20 m along the building;
  • Tapered walls, thicker on lower floors, increasing their strength;
  • Suspended piping and wiring, instead of being encased in concrete, as well as smooth curves, making them more resistant to fracture.
The hotel survived an earlier earthquake that struck Tokyo during its construction. While many buildings in the area were destroyed, the hotel itself " while shaken " stood completely undamaged.

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 US 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.

Surviving portion
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.

Third Imperial Hotel 1968-Present
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 of the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo is Imperial Hotel, Ltd., which runs a chain of luxury hotels in Japan. Princess Sayako, now Sayako Kuroda, was married here in 2005.
  • Peacock Room
  • Peacock Room
  • Peacock Room (1935)
  • Theater
  • Shortly after the earthquake (the Imperial is seen in the top right)
  • Original chairs by Wright, now in the Meiji Mura Museum