Edward Bottoms, December 2015.
One of the most intriguing names on the AA enrolment lists for the 1870s is that of Josiah Conder – a remarkable figure who was to gain the nickname of ‘father of modern Japanese architecture’.
Conder served an articled apprenticeship under T.R. Smith and then worked in William Burges’ office until 1876 when he won the RIBA Soane Medallion. He was then immediately invited to Japan to teach at the Imperial College of Industry and Technology in Tokyo, arriving in January 1877, aged just 25. Employed as an ‘oyatoi’ or ‘foreign expert’, Conder played a central role in the establishment of a Western style school of architecture at Tokyo Imperial University and within ten years of his arrival the majority of major public projects were entrusted to his graduates, who included such notables as Tatsuno Kingo (1854-1919) and Tokuma Katayama (1854-1917).
University of Tokyo, Dept. of Architecture, Hongo Campus: Memorial to Josiah Conder.
Conder also found employment as Architect to the Public Works Department, his major works including the ‘Renaissance’ style Kasumigaseki Detached Palace (c1885, destroyed), the Tokyo Imperial Museum in Ueno Park (1881, destroyed 1923) and the Hokkaido Colonisation Board Building (later ‘Bank of Japan’, c1878-, destroyed 1923). However, Conder is perhaps best known for his 1883 Rokumeikan or ‘Deer Cry Pavillion’ (demolished 1935), designed in a ‘pseudo-Saracenic’ style for the entertaining of foreign dignitaries. This building became a symbol of Meiji westernisation, famous for its western-style balls, concerts and charity bazaars. Conder established his own practice in 1888 and went on to produce a number of significant buildings including the Former Iwasaki Residence (1896), the Mitsubishi No.1 Building, Maronouchi, Tokyo (1894, demolished 1960’s), the Mitsui Club in Mita (1913), and the Nikoraido (1891, partially destroyed 1923).
Josiah Conder: Rokumeikan
Conder also studied under the artist Kyosai Kawanabe (1831-1889 ) for 8 years, accompanying him on painting trips to Kamakura and Nikko -a number of the resulting works being reproduced in this volume. Conder’s talents in this field were recognized in 1883 with the award of the art name of ‘Kyoei’ and he exhibited at a number of Government sponsored exhibitions. Conder was present at Kyosai’s death bed and in 1911 published ‘Paintings and Studies by Kawanabe Kyosai’ (Maruzen, Tokyo), the first English language biography of the artist.
Josiah Conder died in Tokyo at the age of 68 and a committee was immediately set up by his colleagues with the aim of holding an exhibition, erecting a memorial and publishing a book of his works. The last project was finally brought to fruition in 1931 under Baron Koi Furuichi in the form of the ‘Collection of the posthumous works of Dr. Josiah Conder, F.R.I.B.A.’, a copy of which was subsequently presented to his Alma Mater, the AA, and remains within the AA Library’s special collections.