It has been planned for some time, but on 1 September, the magnificent Hotel Okura in Tokyo really is closing to be demolished. Two glass towers will rise in its place, replacing this 1960s gem of Japanese architecture.
Completed in 1962 by a team of five architects led by Yoshiro Taniguchi – who personally designed the welcoming lobby – the hotel was bold and very Western (read: modern) for its time, but with a distinct Japanese aesthetic brought to life by the craftsmen who decorated the space with silk wall coverings, delicate wooden lattice work, specially commissioned tiles, carpets and lighting fixtures. The Okura was a masterfully designed and executed space; a project ahead of its time and an important part of modern Japanese architectural history that, sadly, is soon to be no more.
The Okura was originally opened just in time for the 1964 Olympics. Ironically, it is the forthcoming 2020 games that have prompted the management to scrap and rebuild the lauded structure. The rooms will be slightly bigger (between 30–33 sq m and 48–56 sq m), slightly more numerous (550 rooms from the present 408) and fitted with the latest gadgets, new piping and earthquake proofing. However, pessimistic speculation would posit that the new Okura may lack the detailed, old-school, craft-based charm of its predecessor.
The new design has been put in the hands of Taniguchi's son, Yoshio Taniguchi – a successful architect in his own right, whose approach favours more contemporary, minimalist, clean lines. While the construction takes place, the hotel will operate from the original building's 1973 South Wing addition. For now, it will retain its original appearance, with the classic Orchid bar from the main building and the hotel's restaurants temporarily relocated, offering a chance for the public to visit that seminal interior for a final time.