A favorite among American ambassadors and the political set, Tokyo's Hotel Okura has lived up to its landmark reputation for more than five decades. Originally opened in 1962, two years before the Tokyo Olympics, the hotel embodies Japanese design aesthetics with modern touches. This summer, its main wing will be demolished to begin a $1 billion update that adds 550 rooms within two glass towers and is expected to be built in time for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. The hotel's younger (by eleven years) south wing will remain in operation during the entirety of construction, and with the new addition, will comprise the Okura. Plans for the demolition have garnered attention, including the creation of a "Save the Okura" petition by design magazine Monocle.
Architects Yoshiro Taniguchi and Hideo Kosaka, who designed the hotel, fused it traditional Japanese motifs like plum blossoms and diamond shapes with modernist decor and geometric latticework. Hiroshi Matsukuma, head of modernist-architecture preservation group Docomomo Japan, told the Washington Post earlier this week that the Okura signified Japan's reentry to the world stage after World War II.
There are several reasons why deconstruction is the chosen fate of the hotel's main wing. Stuck in time, the hotel's style, room dimensions, and even cocktail offerings have all struggled to keep up with their newer competition. The building's plumbing is old. The seismic standards to which the building was designed are no longer current, and the process of bringing the building up to date is likely cost prohibitive. The Hotel Okura isn't alone; when architect Kenzo Tange’s Kagawa Prefectural Gymnasium was to be retrofitted, the government deemed the proposed project too expensive and closed it down in September of last year.
Hiroyasu Fujioka, an architectural history professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, told the Post that architecture has become somewhat of a commodity in Japan—where land is merely a product— and this case is no exception. Major investors in this project include construction company Taisei along with Mitsubishi Estate, both large corporations with projects spanning the globe. Matsukuma thinks the demolition represents a broader, looming problem in contemporary Japanese culture: the imperative need to operate as a capitalist society, all the while witnessing its population shrinking dramatically. He told the Post that in 50 years, the city might be full of vacant buildings.
— Amanda Dameron (@AmandaDameron) February 4, 2015