Hotel Imperial exhibition will open at Wright-Martin House – UBNow: News and opinions for UB faculty and staff
An image of the ballroom from a promotional brochure detailing the Imperial Hotel’s luxurious appointments. Image courtesy of the university archives.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House, in collaboration with UB Libraries, will present an exhibition titled “Intellectual Building: The Imperial Hotel at 100,” beginning November 17 at the Barton House, 118 Summit Street, on the grounds of the Martin estate. In Buffalo.
The Intellectual Building is a rare opportunity to explore the largest collection of artifacts from the lost Imperial Hotel in Chiyoda, Tokyo, a blend of Japanese and Western architectural traditions.
“The Imperial represents a blend of Wright’s Prairie style with the Japanese design aesthetic that were among his major influences,” says Kerry Traynor, clinical assistant professor in the School of Architecture and Planning. “Artifacts from the now-demolished Imperial Hotel embody this fusion of Japanese temple and the horizontality of the Prairie Style.”
The university archives contain a large collection of surviving architectural fragments from the Empire, with smaller collections held at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.
“This is where the university archives have something unique,” says university archivist Hope Dunbar. “Visitors to this exhibition will see items found nowhere else in the world.”
The “Built Idea” display in the Martin House also makes an interesting comparison to appreciate Wright’s work.
“It’s an opportunity to see artifacts from Frank Lloyd Wright’s building that are no longer housed inside a permanent example of his work,” Dunbar says. “That’s a perspective that doesn’t happen often.”
This perspective provides new insights into Wright’s designs, according to Trainor.
“This exhibition creates a space for an appreciation and understanding of Martin’s home that is made all the richer by the context that the Imperial Hotel provides,” she says.
The exhibition runs until May 12, 2024. Hours and a link to purchase tickets are available on the Martin House website.
Artifacts rescued from the demolition of the Imperial Hotel. Pictures from the university archives.
The Imperial Hotel is the most famous of several Wright-designed buildings in Japan. The reference “Imperial Hotel”, often used as a historical singular, can actually refer to various buildings and additions to existing buildings on the grounds of the existing hotel property.
The original Imperial Hotel opened in 1890 and was destroyed by fire in 1922. Wright was commissioned to design the second Imperial Hotel. Work began in 1919 and was completed in 1923.
The Wright Imperial Hotel suffered two major earthquakes during its construction, and the second earthquake, despite features intended to reduce earthquake damage, affected the building in ways that led to its eventual demolition in 1967.
Edgar Tavel, a quick apprentice to Wright who became a prolific architect himself, was one step ahead of the wrecking ball.
Tafel’s diligence and determination to preserve the Imperial Hotel’s part of Wright’s legacy is the opening narration that involves a cast including the university archives, Martin House, Tafel and former UB president Martin Merson in a complex plot that leads to the Empire’s surviving treasures arriving at the UB.
UB purchased the Martin House in 1967 for use as the president’s residence. Tafel was among the architects working to renovate the property. He left for Japan at his own expense after trying unsuccessfully to raise the funds needed to maintain specific features of the empire. With his originally ambitious goal out of reach, Tavel decided instead to salvage what represented the hotel’s design from the rubble.
The University Archives became the logical home for the collected items given Tavel’s relationship with the university and with Merson, with whom he was working directly as part of the Martin House renovation. Even after the Martin House was no longer used as the president’s residence, UB maintained a connection to the Wright-designed house.
“The university archives were once housed in the basement of Martin House,” Dunbar says. “Our offices and collections have been retained on site, including the architectural parts of the Imperial Hotel.
“In a way, this exhibition is an opportunity for visitors to see a collection returning to its first home. It is not to be missed.”
(tags for translation) Staff