Completed in 1962 and designed by Yoshiro Taniguchi, Hideo Kosaka, Shiko Munakata and Kenkichi Tomimoto, Tokyo’s Hotel Okura has for decades been a beloved destination for design-minded travelers. But this fall, an epic two-phase redevelopment is slated to move forward in anticipation of the 2020 Summer Olympics, tearing down first the striking main building followed by the less architecturally significant secondary wing. The new main building is slated to reopen in the spring of 2019. Tomas Maier, Bottega Veneta’s creative director and a devotee of the Okura for more than 30 years, talks about his campaign to save the renowned hotel—and other Japanese architectural treasures that could be in danger.
MY FIRST TRIP TO JAPAN was in 1983. At the time, I was a fashion designer working for a French company and traveling from Paris. I happened to stay at the Hotel Okura in Tokyo, and I was mesmerized.
I remember getting out of the cab, walking up to the hotel’s very low overhang, then seeing the breathtaking view into the central lobby and the paper screens and lanterns. Everything was done beautifully, in concert with traditional Japanese artisans—some crafts that don’t even exist anymore. The rooms were still not renovated—they were simple, clean and beautiful, with paper walls and sliding screens. The room renovation, which happened sometime around the late 1980s, didn’t come out well. They were too Westernized. But the common areas were never noticeably touched—the bar, restaurant, lobby and elevator landing. […]