Digital Archaeology: Unearthing Frank Lloyd Wright's Imperial Hotel, Part I


This project began from a simple idea: to explore how the latest generation of modeling and animation software could be used to breathe new life into a legendary building from the past. Our aim is to demonstrate that the advanced tools of contemporary design—programs like AutoCAD, Rhino, 3Ds Max, VRay, and After Effects—also have the potential to transform how we understand, research, and teach architectural history. The choice of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel (completed in 1923, demolished in 1967) as a vehicle for this exploration was inspired by several factors. Key among these was a sense of the hotel’s critical importance both within Wright’s career and within the history of modern architecture in Japan. We were also attracted by the complexity of Wright’s space-making, the strangeness of his formal language and relentless ornamentation scheme, and the unfamiliarity of the hotel’s handcrafted construction technique.

All of these aspects clearly situate the project within a category of transitional or early modern architecture; yet the Imperial Hotel’s deft integration of space, structure, ornament, and daylight into a pervasive, complex-yet-logical geometric system might hold strong allure and relevance for architects today. And Wright’s emphasis on complex surface articulation and visual porosity might even be understood to foreshadow, paradoxically, the formal preoccupations of contemporary parametric design.

Mark Mulligan, Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Architecture, Harvard GSD

Student Team
Andrew Bryan, Paul Dahlke, Nathan Fash