Aside from lovers of Japanese culture and architecture, few know Shofuso, a small Japanese House with a beautiful garden, situated in Philadelphia, and designed in what is regarded as a definitive Japanese style. Now, with a new exhibition, "Modernism: Mid-Century Collaboration between Japan and Philadelphia," this design gem will be reintroduced to a larger audience.
This traditional Japanese house, which acts today as a museum, was gifted by Japan to America, in announcing and symbolizing the postwar peace between the two countries. It was constructed in 1954, in the traditional style, which emerged in Japan during the 17th century. Shofuso was crafted in Japan in local techniques and materials, shipped to New York, and was exhibited for first two years in the courtyard of the MoMA, before moving to its permanent location. In this project, the curator Philip Johnson sought to demonstrate the close relationship between Western Orthodox Modernism and traditional Japanese architecture. It was made possible under the guidance of John D. Rockefeller III, then President of the Japan Society of New York, and was inaugurated on June 17, 1954. Shofuso was visited by over a million, including Japan's prime minister.
What we learn in the current exhibition is the process in which Shofuso resulted from a collaboration between Japanese architect Junzo Yoshimura (1908-1997), woodworker George Nakashima (1905-1990), and architect Antonin Raymond (1888–1976). It was the product of friendship and relationship between the three, who met in Japan when working together in the Tokyo architectural firm of Raymond during the 30s. It is this personal story, which gives Shofuso its layered narrative. The Raymonds returned to the United States in 1938, followed by Yoshimura, where they worked together in New Hope, PA until 1941. The following year, as a result of the Japanese involvement in WWII, Nakashima’s family was deported from Seattle Washington to the Minidoka internment camp in Hunt Idaho. In 1943 Noémi and Antonin interceded, allowing the family to take refuge at the Raymonds’ Farm in New Hope, where George Nakashima eventually established his house, studio, and workshop. They remained friends throughout their lives. This exhibition is about the friendship behind the architecture, demonstrating the power of connection in producing a timeless monument. It will open through November 29th, 2020.
Above: Shofuso Interior, Courtesy of the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia.