By Kumi Matsumaru / Japan News Staff WriterWright Sites: A Guide to Frank Lloyd Wright Public Places
Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy and Joel Hoglund
Princeton Architectural Press, 159pp
The Jiyu Gakuen Myonichikan already looked impressive from the distance. The wood and stucco structure, stretched out horizontally with a tall hall in the center, characterized by large windows and thick columns, was very inviting.
Once I stepped inside the “prairie-style” building, however, I found the architecture was more than just impressive. The Myonichikan, built in 1921 and designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), was filled with a sense of serenity and warmth. This was evident especially in the main hall, thanks to the gentle sunlight allowed to fall in through geometrically patterned window frames facing onto a courtyard.
After the fireplace was lit for visitors (they do so a few days a year), everything looked more relaxed and warmer despite the cold winter weather outside.
The absence of colorful adornment like stained glass seemed appropriate for the hall’s low-key profile. The building, which belongs to Jiyu Gakuen school, also seemed to blend in well with its rather quiet neighborhood in central Tokyo. That may be partly due to Wright’s use of light-colored and soft-looking Oya stone, a Japanese volcanic material.
According to “Wright Sites: A Guide to Frank Lloyd Wright Public Places” by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy and Joel Hoglund, the Myonichikan is one of just a few Wright-designed buildings open to the public in Japan.
“Wright Sites,” touted as the only comprehensive guide to all Wright-designed structures open to the public in the United States and Japan, examines 74 of his works and the ideas behind them. It was revised and updated for the 150th anniversary of his birth.
One of two other Wright sites in Japan mentioned in the book is Yodoko Guest House, built atop a hill in 1924 with views over Kobe in Ashiya, Hyogo Prefecture.
The book also describes the entrance hall and other portions of Wright’s Imperial Hotel, built in Tokyo in 1923. Most of the building was demolished in the 1960s, but these parts were relocated to the Museum Meiji-Mura in Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture.
The Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium, which Wright designed for Arizona State University in 1959 as one of his last projects, is another site I had a chance to visit.
The auditorium also harbored a quiet, low-key atmosphere. The reddish color of the construction reminded me of the hue of red rocks, deserts and rocky mountains in the area, where Wright lived during the winter months.
Just like the Myonichikan, the auditorium seemed to be well-blended with the environment.
I learned from the book that Wright did not live to see the auditorium completed in 1964, and that it was based on his Baghdad Opera House, one of the unrealized structures he designed in 1957 as part of his Plan for Greater Baghdad.
Also covering such well-known Wright sites as Fallingwater, a country house designed in 1935 for a Pittsburgh department store magnate, the book is a good guide to Wright works and the history behind them. For instance, it will equip Instagrammers to enjoy more than just taking a photo of the famous spiral-ramp interior at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Since it also comes with a map and suggested itineraries, the small, easy-to-carry book makes it easy to follow Wright’s footsteps.
Where to Read
At a Wright site, of course.