the Japan Society Archtober Tour

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This is the twenty-sixth in a series of guest posts that feature tours of the Archtober building of the day!

During a Japan Society Archtober Building of the Day guided tour, visitors learned how the building’s architecture echoes the organization’s mission to deepen cultural dialogue between the United States and Japan. .

Archtober guide Michael Chagnon, PhD, curator of exhibit interpretation at the Japan Society, delved into the organization’s history and current location. Founded in 1907, the Japan Society ceased operations during World War II and was revived by John D. Rockefeller III, an avid collector of Asian art. When the organization outgrew the house it originally shared with the Asia Society, Rockefeller secured the land at Turtle Bay and commissioned Tokyo-based modernist architect Junzo Yoshimura to design a new house. for the Japan Society.

(Courtesy of Archtober)

In his design, Yoshimura, a student of Antonin Raymond (a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright), masterfully blends traditional Japanese residential language with the bold, almost brutalist lines and reinforced concrete of American modernism. Chagnon highlighted several elements of the building’s facade that are traditionally found in Japanese houses: the low diagonal fence, typical of Kyoto’s Edo period; the elegantly rhythmic vertical storm window grilles, or love; and surehorizontal screens, usually made of bamboo, and here rendered in steel.

(Courtesy of Archtober)

These references continue in the lobby of the Japan Society, where the exposed concrete of the ceiling combines with delicate slats of Japanese cypress wood, known to give off a lemon-scented aroma when heated.

(Courtesy of Archtober)

According to Chagnon, although Yoshimura wanted visitors to have a full sensory experience upon entering the building, the New York City Fire Department required the slats to be coated with a flame retardant. A bamboo pond at the end of the garden, once calm and serene, now bubbles with the addition of a waterfall.

(Courtesy of Archtober)

A few other elements of Yoshimura’s original design have also changed, particularly after a 1990s renovation by Beyer Blinder Belle. As the organization, which hosts everything from Noh theater performances to Japanese prints and anime exhibits and sake lectures, continued to grow, its space was set to expand accordingly. Beyer Blinder Belle added two floors, which more than doubled the available gallery space.

(Courtesy of Archtober)

And although sacrifices have been made on behalf of the organization, we can be assured that the building, the first in New York to be constructed by a Japanese modernist architect, will remain. In 2011, at the age of 40, it became the youngest landmark building of the State Landmarks Preservation Committee.

(Courtesy of Archtober)

About the Author: Camila Schaulsohn is Director of Communications and Editor-in-Chief of AIA New York Newsletter.

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