Original Campus Vision: 1968
Architect Shared Vision of Creating a Unique School
In the mid 1960s the NIS Board of Directors selected Antonin Raymond, a Czechoslovakian-born U.S. citizen living and working in both the U.S. and Japan, as the architect for their new school building. Raymond’s initial introduction to Japan was as Frank Lloyd Wright’s chief assistant for the building of the famous earthquake-proof Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, the central lobby wing which can now be seen at Meiji-Mura in Inuyama.
For over three decades Raymond, a man of tremendous self-confidence, was an accomplished and highly respected architect in Japan. Known for many buildings throughout Japan, his first project in Nagoya was the First City National Bank of New York, Nagoya in 1954, where he most likely met Mr. Kentaro Funatani, one of the earliest supporters of NIS. Later, Raymond completed the designs for the chapel of the Society Verbi Divini Seminary as well as the entire Nanzan University campus in 1965, where he applied his four principles of consideration – climate, traditions, people and culture – and added a fifth consideration of terrain. These same five considerations would only a few short years later be applied to NIS, on a large piece of land bought from 18 rice farmers in Shidami.
The first step in the inception of the Raymond Building was a visit by the architect to survey the plot of land and the surrounding area where the school would be constructed. After observing the layout of the land, Raymond proposed a circular structure as the main building for the campus, with an administrative tower above the center, a semi-covered garden area and even a swimming pool where the old gymnasium was eventually built. Raymond wanted to take a different approach to the school as a place to learn, hoping to abandon the classic idea of the classroom altogether to provide a more informal atmosphere ahead of its times for 1966. He wrote early on in the design stages:
"The International School in Nagoya continues to be creative as we go on studying it, never satisfied with copying precedents, always chasing the three fundamental principles: proper orientation, simplicity and economy within the framework of a creative curriculum worked out in collaboration with the faculty".
Initially there were objections to the circular design because the thought at that time in Japan was that buildings should always face south. In accordance with this thinking many believed it would be nice to have a school where the classrooms faced south with the hallways on the north side. In the end however the board conceded to Raymond and agreed to his unique design. With this decision the board realized that they may have lost some exposure to sunlight but in its place gained much in the way of the symbolism surrounding a circular school.
Unfortunately, despite donations from many corporations and individuals in the community, due to budget restraints and space limitations, Raymond's vision was not fully realized. After the school exhausted all avenues for raising money, it was obvious there would have to be some cutbacks made to the original building plans. With the architect, contractor, education and building committee members working as a team, an agreement on what cuts should be made was reached. Some of the changes were made in such a way that they could be added later, others were eliminated completely. Only two-thirds of the circular building was completed at first, but fully completed a decade later in 1979.
Although the Raymond Building was only partially finished, it was decided to hold the first commencement at the new campus in June 1968. The seven seniors had never taken a class at what was to become NIS’s permanent home, but they were able to enjoy the distinction of being the first graduates to be presented their diplomas not only from the school, but at the new campus.
Years of negotiation, fundraising, and construction were coming to an end. The ceremony was both a celebration of the achievement of the students who were graduating and of the whole school community that had worked hard on the building project. It had been a remarkable run for the young school and an inexperienced Board. In the course of five years, they had envisaged a school, bought land, built a campus, and seen their first graduating class.
The decision made by the NIS school board in the 60’s to hire someone with Raymond’s background, ability and experience in Japan turned out to be the right one. It lead to our circular structure, one of the symbols of NIS, which has been serving a flexible and progressive educational program since 1967. After 33 years, however, the building gave way to time and changing needs to a newer face of NIS when the Wing Building was constructed in 1999. However, the circular building - and indeed, NIS itself - would not have been completed without the visionary guidance of such a remarkable architect, the wisdom and encouragement from government and business leaders, the financial help of many supporters and the hard work and determination of so many parents and friends of NIS. He would be very proud of how far we have gone!