The third event in the SMArt Talks series held on 14th November 2022 featured two talks on architecture. Richard Anderson from the University of Edinburgh focussed on an unrealised skyscraper designed by El Lissitzky, and Helena Čapková, based at the University of Kyoto, examined the work of Czech-born architect, Antonín Raymond, who is best known for his career in Japan. In her talk, Čapková discussed several less well-known projects that Raymond produced in India.
I took the opportunity to conduct an interview with Helena Čapková about her research, which I first introduce by providing a short outline of her lecture.
Helena Čapková presenting at SMArt Talks.
Helena Čapková, ‚Antonín Raymond Decolonized: His Work in India‘
Helena Čapková has long been interested in the work of the Czech-born architect Antonín Raymond (1888–1976). Raymond (originally Reimann) is well known especially for his architecture practice in Japan, where he is recognised as a pioneer of modern architecture. Čapková introduced the architectural background of Raymond‘s artwork and problematised some of his projects in the United States, Japan and finally in India. His architectural work was shaped by modern architecture debate and traditional Japanese architecture. Raymond spent time in Frank Lloyd Wright’s practice and interacted with international architecture modernism. Simultaneously, he absorbed the principles of traditional Japanese architecture and construction methods. These impulses were absorbed and developed in his style, which is generally regarded as the foundation of modern Japanese architecture. Čapková try to analyze Raymond’s architectural work through a decolonization optic. She thought about the role of Raymond’s work in modern Japanese architecture and the part of his Japanese studio and other participants in Raymond’s artwork.
Raymond is an example of an internationally successful architect who built an extensive international network of contacts during his lifetime, as shown, among other things, in Čapková‘s book Antonín Raymond in Japan 1948–1976. Memories of Friends (Aula, 2019).
Raymond moved to New York in 1910, where he started working in Cass Gilbert’s architectural studio. In 1914, he met his future wife, the French-born American artist Noémi Perrnesin (1889–1980), who helped him to establish himself in New York. Noémi Raymond worked as a textile and interior designerand,together with her husband, collaborated with Frank Lloyd Wright at his atelier in Taliesin, Wisconsin. Cooperation with Wright also brought the Raymonds to Japan in 1919. As his assistant, Antonín participated in the realisation of the Imperial Hotel (1912–1923) in Tokyo.
Raymond opened a studio working with other American and Czechoslovak architects in Japan in 1921. As Čapková points out, during the thirties, Raymond decided to transform the company and employ more Japanese architects and specialists. This decision, in the end, enabled him to continue the studio after WWII.
One of Raymond’s first significant buildings in Japan was his own Reinanzaka House in Tokyo (1924–1926). The project combined modernist architecture with traditional Japanese design elements. Raymond’s interest in traditional Japanese vernacular architecture and carpentry was also growing during the thirties. He studied traditional construction and applied it in the design of his summer house in Karuizawa in Nagano (1933).
During WWII, Raymond and his family returned to the United States and opened a new architecture studio with American Slovak architect Ladislav L. Rado (1909-1993). After the war, Raymond got involved in Douglas MacArthur’s project of rebuilding Japan, and in the first post-war years, he participated in the reconstruction of the infrastructure. Later he rebuilt his office in Tokyo and continued his practice in Japan. At this time, Raymond built the Gunna Music Centre in Takasaki, one of the significant buildings of his afterwar architecture career. Raymond’s architectural studio has been in operation to the present day.
In the final part of her lecture, Čapková focused on Raymond’s architecture practice in India based on her long-term research. In 1935 Raymond’s office accepted a commission to design a dormitory for the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, alternatively called Golconde. The residents of the Ashram participated in the construction of the building. Raymond and his colleagues built a full-scale model of the dormitory to test the feasibility of the design.  As Čapková pointed out, the Ashram building is commonly referred to as the first modernist building in India. However, the complex commissioning process and the participation of Antonín Raymond’s office team remained unclear until recently.
 Helena Čapková, Antonín Raymond and Friends, online https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_kpAUtYh1qA&t=2051s, Accessed 3 January 2023.
 Pankej Vir Gupta – Christine Mueller – Cyrus Samii, Golconde. The introduction of modernism in India, 2021 online there https://books.google.cz/books?id=QMZOEAAAQBAJ&pg=PA1&redir_esc=y – v=onepage&q&f=false, Search in 4. 1. 2023.
Link to pictures:
PEL: You have managed to introduce the work of Antonín Raymond to the Czech and international public. Where did your interest in Raymond’s architectural work start?
HČ: It stemmed out of my interest in the relationship between Japanese aesthetics and design traditions and modernism. I had a particular interest in Central European modernism and the designers who visited and worked in the respective geographies. Architects such as Raymond and Bedřich Feuerstein came out of this research framework as suitable research topics.
PEL: What was the relationship of Antonin Raymond with Frank Lloyd Wright and what impact did Wright have on Raymond’s early work?
HČ: Raymond admired Wright since he was a student in Prague and learnt a lot from him during their collaboration in the 1910s.
PEL: Raymond’s architectural work was shaped by both Euro-American and Japanese architecture. How much did Raymond contribute to international debates about modern architecture at the time?
HČ: Raymond’s impact is the most prolific in Japan where he developed his own style that was commercially very successful. He further contributed to the debate about using different and progressive construction technologies and to the dynamic debate about the relationship between Japanese traditional building and Japanese modernism.
PEL: Noémi Raymond was essential to Raymond’s successful career. Could you clarify the role of his wife in the architectural practice of his studio?
HČ: Noémi was in charge of interiors from the late 1920s onwards and she contributed to the process of searching for architectural form. She had her room and assistant and critically shaped Raymond’s taste and artistic-architectural development.
PEL: You mentioned that the Golconde project was the first modernist project in India.
However, the project has not been recognized as designed by Raymond until recently. Do you have some explanation for this?
HČ: The authorship of the Golconde design has been debated for decades. George Nakashima, Raymond office member, claimed it, for example. I can see many reasons for the confusion. One is that the architectural authorship has never been as important for the Ashram community as the role of their leader, the Mother, who initiated the commission and was an important part of the process. This focus overshadowed the investigation of the authorship. Secondly, it is true that the commission and construction itself were quite unexpectedly complex and transnational. It required innovative research methodology, and great deal of intuition on my part I must say, to uncover all the details and reconstruct the history of the Golconde project.
PEL: In the title of your contribution, you mention “decolonization of Raymond’s architecture work”. Could you say something more about this? In what sense can we talk about decolonization in the context of Raymond’s work?
HČ: To examine Raymond through the set of questions of decolonization method makes a lot of sense and exposes crucial details about his operation in Japan and India, it breaks down the stereotypical image regarding his leadership and positions/privileges in Japan and elsewhere and also, it explains the uneven nature of research of his work. And more. These are only initial outcomes of decolonizing process applied in his work.
Helena Čapková is a Czech art historian, curator and writer based in Tokyo and Kyoto. Her work has long been devoted to evaluating the reflection of Japanese culture and art in modern European art. She studied transnational visual culture and Japanese studies in Prague and London. As a PhD candidate, she collaborated on international and interdisciplinary research projects such as Forgotten Japonisme (2007–2010), Enchanted Modernities: Theosophy, Modernism and the Arts, c.1875–1960 (2013–2015) and Bauhaus Imaginista (2018–2020).
She is the author of Bedřich Feurstein: Cesta do nejvýtvarnější země světa/Bedřich Feurstein: a journey to the most artistic country in the world (Aula – KANT, 2014; in Japanese translation in 2021); Bedřich Feuerstein, Architect. Prague – Paris – Tokyo (Seinbunsha, 2021), co-author with Kōichi Kitazawa of Antonín Raymond v Japonsku 1948–1976: Vzpomínky přátel/Antonín Raymond in Japan 1948–1976: Memories of Friends, (Aula, 2019), or a study on the relationship between Jan Kotěra and Japan in the book Mýtus umělce – Jan Kotěra 150/The Myth of the Architect: Jan Kotěra 150 (Akademie výtvarných umění – Pravý úhel – UMPRUM, 2021).
Petra Lexová is a Ph.D. student in the History of Art Department Faculty of Arts in
Brno. She’s simultaneously working as an Assistant Professor in the Arts and Culture Sciences Department in České Budějovice. She regularly publishes in Czech journals and newspapers such as Artalk.cz, ERA21, Art&Antique and Deník N.