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Frank Lloyd Wright, the Willits House and the Traditional Japanese Architecture

The Willits House is a project made by Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the important architects of the 20th century. According to the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, “In 1991, the AIA [The American Institute of Architects] named Wright the greatest American architect of all time”[1]. Besides not being his most famous work, the Willits House express Wright’s interest in the traditional Japanese architecture and in the simple way of living.

Wright’s interest in Japanese art started on the late 1880s, when he started to work as an art dealer as a side job, selling Japanese woodprint blocks to his clients. In 1905, when he decided to make his first trip outside of America, he decided to visit Japan, spending two months touring natural and historical landmarks. In January of 1917, Wright took a residence in Tokyo to work on projects in Japan. Apart from being designed in 1901, before his first trip to Japan, the Willits House received a lot of influences from the traditional Japanese house style.

Traditional Japanese Style

The Japanese traditional style was an architectural design that took place before the modernization made in the Meiji era (1868-1912), an era that Japan decided that it should modernize its architecture and engineering to become an industrialized country. This style is characterized by its feeling of simplicity and serenity, the attention to details, the use of wood structure and the use of wood and paper panels as walls and doors.

 

Minka in Kyoto [2]
The traditional Japanese houses are called minka, kominka or ko-minka. These houses are now slowly disappearing[3], partially because they are made of a very flammable material and partially because they aren’t appropriate for the current Japanese lifestyle. Nevertheless, they were very common in the Japan that Wright knew and visited.

Japanese roof frame [4]
To make these houses, the Japanese builders used a carpentry technique that made possible to build a house without the use of nails, with just perfect fits between wood pieces and mooring pieces together. This way of build makes it necessary to have attention to every detail of every piece used in the construction of the house so they attach together strongly.

A minka also utilizes sliding screens that worked as doors and walls. These sliding screens are called fusumashouji or fusuma, for short[5], and they can be used, when open, to turn a space wider or, when closed, to turn a room more private. These fusuma are made of wood and paper. They can be made from a very thin paper, letting light enter the house or the room, or from a very thick paper. Those paper can receiver a pure color or even some artistic painting

Willits house and its relation to Japanese traditional style

The Willits House is a house that Frank Lloyd Wright designed in 1901 for Ward W. Willits. This house received a lot of influence from the Japanese minka that we saw here before. The first characteristic that we see, analyzing the side view of the Willits House, is the white color on the wall and the wood framing the windows, mimicking the serenity found Japanese architecture and the fusuma that works as the door and wall of the minka house. We also can see a large eaves on the top of the building that are common on Japanese traditional architecture.

Floor plan

Dining room [6]
Going inside the house, we see a lot of wood frames working as structural element, as also a way to mimic fusumas, or as way of incorporate glass to make some rooms feels more permeable. Wright also used panels made of wood and glass as doors, using the glass as the Japanese use paper to fill their fusuma. We can also see that the rooms are spacious and very clean, helping to creating the feeling of serenity that are common on traditional Japanese architecture.

Wright was very interested in the Japanese culture and architecture. In this project, he could experiment some ways to incorporate his passion on the american house and in his architecture design. As we saw, this project is inspired in the Japanese minka, but also has adaptations made to work in the american style and way of living, like the use of glass and western wall material, instead of paper. These experiments were futher used on more of Wrights projects, defining part of the Praire House Style and the overall Wright style.

[1] Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. 2007. “About Frank Lloyd Wright”. Retrieved April 04, 2018 (https://www.savewright.org/who-we-are/about-frank-lloyd-wright).

[2] Kyoto-Araki Komuten Sukiya-Japan. “Introducing Ko-Minka”. Retrieved April 05, 2018 (http://sukiya-japan.com/minka/index.html).

[3] Tsunagu Japan. “Simple yet beautiful: Japan's traditional homes, kominka”. Retrieved April 04, 2018 (https://www.tsunagujapan.com/simple-yet-beautiful-japans-traditional-homes-kominka).

[4] Евгений Арсенюк Pinterest Account. “Japanese roof frame”. Retrieved April 05, 2018 (https://i.pinimg.com/originals/4a/f6/1e/4af61e02575a4c49430837c947396764.jpg).

[5] Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System. “Fusuma”. Retrieved April 05, 2018 (http://www.aisf.or.jp/~jaanus).

[6] Wiki Architecture. “Ward W. Willits House”. Retrieved April 04, 2018 (https://en.wikiarquitectura.com/building/ward-w-willits-house).

 

Article by HL Architects and Interior Design in Durham

Architecture History: Skyscrapers Of The Past

Humanities incessant fascination with defying gravity is nothing new. It has existed throughout time and man has been in a constant battle with himself in the pursuit of building higher and higher skyscrapers. It has been a non-stop cycle wand this has led to the definition of skyscrapers to be continuously redefined through the passage of time.

Advancement in technology has enabled man to redefine the skyscraper benchmark over and over again. But if you stop for a moment to consider that skyscrapers have existed in form or another throughout history and that it is something that we share with our predecessors.

Let’s take a trip down the memory lane and let’s look at some of the skyscrapers from the history of civilizations.

 

La Venta Pyramid, La Venta

900 BC | Height: 34m-110ft

Today, if you visit the city of La Venta, located in Tabasco, Mexico, it will seem like any other city. But this is no ordinary city, it was once the capital of the great Olmec civilization and the pyramid of La Venta was truly a wonder of its time. It was the central building of the city that stood in all its might leaving spectators spell bounded.

The most interesting fact is that the pyramid of La Venta was actually a rectangular pyramid with inset corners and stepped sides. This great building was made entirely of clay and such had been its might that it has withstood 2500 years worth of corrosion.

 

La Danta Temple, El-Mirador

300 BC | Height: 72m-236 ft

If you are asked to sum up the Mayan Empire in a few words, you can safely answer – La Danta Temple.

A stone building constructed with stone-age tools, this iconic temple speaks volumes about the greatness of Mayan Empire. In its glory days, it was the pride of the city of Mirador, towering over the central Acropolis and main city plaza.

 

Pyramid of the sun, Teotihuacan, Mexico.

100 AD | Height: 71m-233ft

The third skyscraper on the list is another pyramid, which isn’t a surprise as pyramids were the structure of choice in the past.

The Pyramid is situated in the ancient city of Teotihuacán, Mexico and is the 3rd largest pyramid in the world. It is amongst the best tourist attractions in Mexico City, leaving visitors in awe because of its sheer size.

It is a common misconception that the Pyramid of the sun is an Aztec temple. However, this is incorrect as this masterpiece was constructed by the Teotihuacans, which existed at a much earlier time. Unfortunately, not much is known about the Teotihuacans and hence, the purpose for which the Pyramid of the Sun was built has been a subject of a lot of debate.

 

Step pyramid, Saqqara

2650 BC | Height: 62m-203 ft

Though pyramids have been constructed by civilizations across the globe, however, when it comes to these structures, the country that comes to mind instantly is Egypt. It can be safely said that pyramids are the most famous structures of Egypt and in this regards, let’s take at look at one of the most prestigious pyramid.

Commonly known as Step Pyramid, the Pyramid of Djoser is considered to be the first Egyptian pyramid. It isn’t a surprise that the appearance of this pyramid is quite different from the pyramids built later.

Located in the Saqqara necropolis, the Step pyramid was built during the Third dynasty for the burial of Pharaoh Djoser. It is considered as the earliest large-scale cut stone construction. The pyramid stood 62 meters tall, with a base of 109 m × 125 m and was clad in polished white limestone.

The construction of the step pyramid was a pivotal step in the history of Egypt as it led to the ambitious pyramid construction program that ultimately led to the construction of Great Pyramids at Giza.

 

Colosseum, Rome

80 AD | Height: 49m-160 ft

Moving on from pyramids, let’s take a look at an architectural wonder that is regarded as one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world – The Colosseum.

It is without a doubt that the Colosseum is the most recognizable classical building in Rome. It was constructed 2,000 years ago and has been subject to a lot of damage over the years. Despite the fact that this structure has been affected by excessive damage like being abandoned, pillaged for building materials, destroyed in numerous earthquakes, this structure has survived the test of time and still stands today.

The actual name of the Colosseum is Flavian amphitheater. However, it became to be known as the Colosseum as it gained immense fame because of the colossal statue of Nero. When it was built, it was the first permanent and the largest amphitheater in the Roman Empire. It measured around 620 by 513 feet (190 by 155 meters) and could accommodate 60,000 seated and 10,000 standing spectators.

The distinctive feature of the Colosseum was that it consisted of a freestanding structure composed of concrete and stone. This was unique as amphitheaters were traditionally dug into the hillsides in order to provide the required support. Furthermore, the structure consisted of around 80 entrances, which means that even when fully packed, all the people inside the Colosseum could easily leave in a matter of minutes.

 

Lighthouse of Alexandria

280 BC-1323 AD | Height : 137m-450 ft

The Lighthouse of Alexandria, also called the Pharos of Alexandria, is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was a ground-breaking technological achievement and become the model for on which all lighthouses have been built ever since.

The lighthouse of Alexandria was constructed in the 3rd century BC and was more than 350 feet high, making it one of the tallest man-made structures for many centuries.

Unfortunately, the lighthouse of Alexandria was damaged significantly during the 14th century when the region was hit by major earthquakes.

 

Article by HL Architects Durham