COPY Raymond New Summer Studio
In 1919, Antonin Raymond came to Japan with Frank Lloyd Wright to work on the soon-to-be-legendary Imperial Hotel. Although he left the American architect’s employ soon after to begin what would be a prolific and high-profile career of his own, he remained in Wright’s shadow for the rest of his life.Several recent books and a landmark 2006 exhibition have helped resurrect Raymond’s reputation, giving his career the critical positioning it deserves. But as architectural historian David Stewart sees it, he was a victim of his adaptability and versatility. “I think Raymond was the kind of architect who wanted to work through a given style, to see where it led, see how you did it, see if you could invent new things using these styles,” says Stewart. “Raymond was a man who could work in any style, almost like Picasso. I think this was held against him by orthodox modernists.”The architect’s fame was further diminished by his physical distance from the traditional capitals of architecture for most of his career. But over the course of 43 years in Japan and the creation of more than 400 designs (as well as paintings and sculptures), Raymond developed a unique modernism that fused the fine...
When the Raymonds left Japan for work in India in 1937, they reluctantly sold the Summer House, fearing the war might prevent them from coming back. But upon their return in 1948, they claimed a new plot of land on an elevated ridge adjacent to the golf course, with an unimpeded south-facing view across fields and woods to the Myogi Mountains. (Their Summer House was later re-sited and substantially altered, but is today open to the public as the Peynet Museum at Karuizawa Taliesin).In the late 1950s, the Raymonds built a small, rectangular building on the northwest of the property where they could stay. In 1960, Antonin began designing a one-story, dodecagonal (12-sided) wood building, with two wings (a service wing to the west and a bedroom wing to the east) emanating from the sides.
At the center was to be an atelier, living and dining space with an impressive concrete fireplace at its heart, open to the room on both sides. Like the Summer House, the metal roof was to be covered with a bed of thatched larch to shade it from the sun and dampen the sound of frequent rain. Inside, an umbrella ceiling, rising to 5.2 m at its midpoint, would be held in place by 12 cedar-pole spokes, spanning the great room’s 9 m radius.
The 144 m2 building would incorporate ample sliding glass doors and shoji panels. The panels on the south could be completely removed, erasing the barrier between outside and in. From their bedroom, the highest point in the structure, Antonin and Noémi would have a “magnificent view all around the horizon,” including Mt. Asama.
And everything, from the furnishings to fabrics to the fittings to the artwork, was to be designed by the couple. As with their other buildings, the master carpenters who built it would also use leftover lumber to craft the furniture that Noémi had designed. She also created a nure-en elevated walkway around the south and east sides, echoing the engawa corridors in traditional homes that served as the interface between the structure and nature.
Although exterior construction on the New Karuizawa Studio was complete by December 1961, it wasn’t occupied until 1963. The interior was still unfinished when a young man first visited the site, knowing that he would be joining Raymond’s firm upon college graduation the following April. He found both the setting and the studio magical.“In March 1962, I went back with five fellow students for our graduation project,” recalled Koichi Kitazawa recently. “We asked the caretaker to open the doors for the price of a big bottle of sake, and we loved the place so much, we decided we just had to stay overnight. The caretaker got some futons for us from a rental place. It was still really cold, so we tried to use the fireplace, but it didn’t burn very well and the house filled up with smoke. It wasn’t designed properly — that’s why there’s a steel door covering one side of it now.”
Kitazawa would go on to be one of a handful of privileged young architects who joined the Raymonds in Karuizawa during Tokyo’s hottest summer months, working on such projects as the Gunma Music Center and buildings for Sophia University. “Mr. Raymond would arise at 4 am, knock on the door of the staff housing and 4:30, and walk his dog over to a farmer’s house nearby, where he would have tea,” he remembers. “Once back, he would sculpt and paint until breakfast at 8 am. Studio work was from 9 am to 3 pm, with strict rules that we could have no private conversations during that time. Raymond would check drawings and other progress in the late afternoon. Sometimes we would all go for walks together. In the evening, there were often barbecue parties with clients and friends, and we had meat, which was still rare. Then Mr. Raymond would be in bed by 8 pm.”
The summer retreats lasted until 1972, when the aging Raymonds decided to return to the US and received an offer for the studio from one of Japan’s richest men. Certain that if he didn’t buy it the new owner would eventually raze and replace it, Kitazawa outbid the millionaire by getting a loan and using funds he’d been saving to establish his own company. “I’m so happy that I could keep this place alive,” he says now, standing in a ray of sun in the great room.He managed to start Kitazawa Architects upon the Raymonds’ departure, and has taken members of his own staff with him to the studio. He has made few changes over the years, although he is no longer able to maintain the thatched roof. When one visits the New Karuizawa Studio, it feels much like stepping back into time.
The approach is from an impossibly narrow road, and the building is hidden until one pulls up nearly in front of it. From outside, it appears deceptively small. Unless one is a bird, glimpsing a full view of the structure is impossible. This heightens the architectural impact upon entering. One ascends the front steps and into a spacious genkan entryway, graced with a ceramic sculpture and carved painting by Raymond. Stepping up and donning slippers, one can turn left, down a small corridor that passes the kitchen before ending in a utility room and back porch, which overlooks the original rectangular building, now used for storage.
But if one turns right, there is breath-sucking enchantment just steps away. The narrow corridor suddenly opens into the great room, with its umbrella ceiling, its giant fireplace, its rustic furniture and its invitation to admire the scenery. In sunshine or rain, it manages to feel both like a cocoon and a cathedral (there’s even a sketch of St. Peter’s Basilica, done by Raymond, on one wall). Sinking into a low-slung rope chair facing the greenery, one never wants to leave.
Up a short flight of stairs off the northeast corner of the room, there is a small tatami-mat room with fusuma doors that can slide open to reveal the great room. Across the hall is the bathroom, and then, Antonin and Noémi’s bedroom, with narrow beds and built-in book nooks but little else. The view on three sides commands all one’s attention, so nothing further is required.<Drafting Tables Photo May Be Here>Kitazawa stays at the New Karuizawa Studio frequently from the end of April to early November, often hosting visitors and study groups. He holds a substantial collection of materials that Raymond wanted him to keep with the building, and he has left the drafting tables and swing-arm lamps on the north side of the great room, just as they were in the old days. He also brings clients, since the studio is a showcase for Raymond-style design. Although most of his work is elsewhere, Kitazawa has built 12 besso vacation homes in Karuizawa, all of them celebrating the beauty of natural materials and Raymond’s enduring influence. ...
In a 1953 letter recommending Raymond for the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal (which he would receive 3 years later), Paul Thiery wrote, “[Raymond] has been a champion of a fuller meaning for architecture — that it is not function, nor structure, nor materials, nor use, nor orientation, nor mode of life — but that it is all of these things united and indivisible.”