Peacock Side Chair from the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo
USA, c. 1921
Frank Lloyd Wright

Oak, vinyl, brass
15½ × 19 × 38¼”

In 1916 the Japanese government commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design the new Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Wright’s priority was that the building be earthquake resistant, which he achieved by resting the structure on piles of concrete slabs that descended below, essentially “floating” the building on deeper layers of mud. The hotel opened in 1922 and famously it survived the devastating earthquake of 1923. As an early instance of the residential use of concrete the commission marked a new phase of Wright’s career: the departure from the Prairie school style of the previous decade and subsequent development of ‘Organic Architecture’.

Wright was given quite a lot of power, and the Imperial Hotel was the ultimate Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art from its elaborate H-shaped plan containing two interior gardens to the silverware in the dining room. The interior scheme is informed by Wright’s concept of decorative unity and all of the interior furnishings were designed and produced specifically for the hotel. Period images document the present model’s placement throughout the building, including in front of the fireplace in the parlour, in a special box in the theatre and in the long promenade.

The hexagonally shaped back of the chair mimics the ornament of the cornice and ceiling and derives from forms found in Japanese art and design. Wright wrote in his autobiography, that ‘Japanese fine-art traditions are among the noblest and purest in this world… The West has much to learn from the East—and Japan was the gateway to that great East of which I had been dreaming since I had seen my first Japanese prints, and read my first Laotze’ (Cary, p. 36). Perhaps ironically, the chair form itself was a foreign notion in Japan at this time, and its presence demonstrates the country’s efforts to westernise. In this way, the chair dually reflects both the architect’s and the host country’s fascination with each other. —Phillips

(Photo: Cooper Hewitt & Wright & Urban Remains)