Frank Lloyd Wright was a passionate lover of Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints and subsequently traded them. In many ways, their aesthetics guided some of his principles as a practicing architect. Wright’s works were predominantly in the USA, and approximately ten or fewer were designed for locations in Japan, where he visited countless times. Seven of Wright’s structures were constructed, but only two remain in their original form today- the Jiyu Gakuen Girls’ school, Myonichikan, and the Yodokó Guesthouse, formerly Yamamura, Tazaémon House (1918). The designs and works outside the USA helped to establish him as a creative international architect. In this essay, Wright’s Yodokó guest house in Japan will be discussed.
Frank Lloyd Wright witnessed global changes, which was the move to the machine age that led to the emergence of a new architecture. His ideas were greatly influenced by his friend and Lieber meister’s meaning dear master, Louis Sullivan, thereby developing his style of designing architecture. His principles involved the following:
Simplicity- He was an advocate of fewer rooms in spaces and the elimination of interior wall partitions that were unnecessary. He implored efficiency in space programming.
Sympathy with the environment – He reiterated through design that site and architecture should be in harmony, meaning buildings should seem to ‘sprout’ from their environment. Wright was also involved with colors, and he maintained that colors should be in symmetry with their surroundings, be natural, and also local materials be used to ensure that colors blend.
The ‘nature’ of materials – All building materials should show their natural characteristics and shouldn’t be disguised. This concept carries through to the structural use of the materials to showcase its characteristics of strength and aesthetic.
Buildings should bring individuals joy – Wright was not as innately conservative or rooted in tradition, but he was open to new materials and used them joyfully to think outside the box and open up his buildings. The materials allowed him to span space and create dramatic cantilevered roofs and balconies. For consistency, Wright felt it was quite impossible to consider the building as one thing, its furnishings, setting and environment as different entities. Frank Lloyd Wright saw the building as one entity composed of different parts as opposed to several entities without coordination.
All of these principles, which highlight organic architecture, were displayed in the design and construction of Yodokó Guesthouse. Frank Lloyd Wright’s design aims to respond to the ongoing challenges of social change, modernity, and technological advancement by making the designs free, flexible, and adaptable to their environment, which involves the blend of materials, structure and motifs.
The Yodokó Guesthouse was built on a lush hill in Ashiya City, Japan, designed for Tazaémon Yamamura. The house was a second home for Tazaémon Yamamura, who was the eighth-generation brewer of the famous company ‘Sakuramasamune’ in Nada as a summer villa. Frank Lloyd Wright finished the design for the house in 1918 when he came to Japan to oversee the construction of his design for the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Construction was completed in 1924. This is the only private residence designed by Wright in Japan and was pushed through the construction stage by two of his trusted draftsmen, Arata Endo and Makoto Minami. It is a combination of one and two-story sections intersecting for synergy.
The residence is designed along an incline, like an array of steps with gentle slopes from one end to another. The building is built in concrete, Philippine mahogany timber work, and local Oya-ishi stone. These materials are used in his organic architecture. The local Oya-ishi stone Wright also implored in the construction of the Imperial Hotel and Myonichikan School, accented with carved geometric patterns. Decorative copper plates on many of the windows display stylized leaf motifs. The rooftop balcony provides views of surrounding mountains, Osaka bay, and the city of Ashiya itself.
The Yamamura Tazaémon House, now owned by Yodogawa Steel, has been renovated after damage caused during the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in 1995. It is a delight that the guesthouse is still so natural. Working off Frank Lloyd Wright’s principles of organic architecture feels wonderfully open and modern even today after over 90 years. The architecture involves the design of spaces and overall structure in balance with their natural surroundings and tailored function to serve indwellers.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural tenets are still being used today as a reference in sustainable design. He was a valuable architect of all time, who designed and imagined spaces that continue to gear interactions and discussions among architects, institutions, society, and the world. He was a success in what many architects struggle with, that is, how to transcend between the architecture community and the general public, leading people to know the importance of architects to the built environment. It is great that the guesthouse has been designated as an Important Cultural Property in 1974 and open to the public as a museum since 1989.
Iain Thomson (1999). Frank Lloyd Wright, A Visual Encyclopedia. Thunder Bay Press.
OEN Design (2021). the189.com/architecture/organic-architecture-architecture-yodoko-guest-house-by-frank-lloyd-wright-in-hyogo-japan/ [Accessed October 4th, 2021]
Patrick Sisson (2019). Frank Lloyd Wright in 45 Essential works. archived.curbed.com/maps/frank-lloyd-wright-best-buildings-map [Accessed October 4th, 2021]
Yodoko-geihinkan.jp/en/about-us/ [Accessed October 4th, 2021]