Simanaitis Says

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THIS YEAR is the sesquicentennial of Frank Lloyd Wright’s birth. New York City’s Museum of Modern Art is celebrating this with its “Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive.” Running until October 1, 2017, the MoMA exhibition has more than 400 FLW works dating from the 1890s through the 1950s.

Frank Lloyd Wright: Unpacking the Archive, by Barry Bergdoll and Jennifer Gray, The Museum of Modern Art, 2017.

The large-format 256-page catalog is a fine way to enjoy the exhibition without making the trip to New York City. Fourteen FLW specialists contributed essays on his works, including a favorite of mine, Toyko’s Imperial Hotel, and several others that are new to me. Here are selected tidbits.

Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, preliminary scheme, 1913–1916. Colored pencil and pencil on drafting cloth, 15 1/2 x 35 in.

In his essay “Reframing the Imperial Hotel Between East and West,” Ken Tadashi Oshima observes that FLW “examined the unstable soil conditions for the site, which was originally part of the Hibiya inlet of Tokyo Bay before being filled in as part of the construction of the feudal capital of Edo.”

Initial changes of Edo landscape dated from around 1600, during the shogunate of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Oshima notes that the hotel’s design employed “a floating-pier system, which Wright likened to the way ‘a waiter carries his tray on raised fingers at the center—balancing the load.’ ” Efficacy of FLW’s work was proven when the Imperial Hotel survived the Great Kanto Earthquake of September 1, 1923, the day the hotel officially opened.

Imperial Hotel, main entrance and lobby, as it appears today reassembled in The Museum Meiji-Mura. Image from the Meiji-Mura catalog of my visit.

Replaced by a modern structure in 1967, elements of FLW’s Imperial Hotel were dismantled and reassembled in The Museum Meij-Mura, architectural reconstructions about 30 minutes from Nagoya.

Odowara Hotel Project, 1917. Pencil and colored pencil on tracing paper, 12 1/8 x 24 3/8 in.

In 1917, FLW proposed the Odowara Hotel, a structure that would have bridged a waterfall on cantilevered trays. Though FLW’s hotel in Odowara, about 55 miles southwest of Tokyo, was never built, its concept took form in Fallingwater, 1934–1937, in Mill Run, Pennsylvania.

Tomorrow, the MoMA’s Frank Lloyd Wright: Unpacking the Archive will take us to his designs for everyman and an architectural model so detailed it includes a fireplace, piano, and FLW screen. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

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