The National Museum of Western Art, located in the cultural hub of Ueno Park in Taito, central Tokyo, is a revered institution and the foremost public art gallery in Japan that specializes in Western art. This museum is not only a repository of remarkable art collections but also a significant architectural landmark. It was designed by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier, a pioneer of modern architecture. As the only building by Le Corbusier in the East, it embodies his ‘Five Points of Architecture’ and showcases his distinctive brutalist style. Known commonly by its English acronym NMWA, the museum offers an enriching blend of art and architecture, embodying a unique fusion of Western modernist architecture and Japanese cultural context.
National Museum of Western Art Technical Information
- Architects1-2: Le Corbusier | Biography & Bibliography
- Typology: Cultural Architecture / Museum
- Location: 7-7 Ueno-Koen, Taito-Ku, Tokyo, Japan
- Building structure: Reinforced concrete
- Completion: February 28, 1959
- Site area: 1,587 square meters
- Gross floor space: 4,399 square meters
- Exhibition galleries: 1,533 square meters
- Images: © Courtesy of XIA ZHI
The modular, which Le Corbusier developed after many years of research, is like a musical scale which gives order to the infinitude of possible musical pitches. Based on the size and proportions of the human body, it is a means of fitting architecture to the human spirit, of ordering the infinitude of possible proportions in such a way as to make them conform to the human shape. In the new Museum of Western Art, the modulor system has been observed in everything from the structural members to the architectural details and furnishings– Tadayoshi, Fujiki3
National Museum of Western Art Photographs
Le Corbusier in Tokyo – NMWA
The Main Building was designed by the Swiss architect Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris (1887–1965) and opened to the public in 1959. It is the only representative example of his work in the Far East. The New York Times review of its opening suggested that the building itself presented an “artistic significance and beauty” which rivaled the paintings inside.
The museum was built to house the collection of works gathered by the industrialist Matsukata Kojiro between 1920 and 1923. His collection remained in England and France until after World War Two when the Japanese Government asked France for its return. After France stipulated that a French architect should design the museum that would house the collection, the works were returned to Japan. Le Corbusier was selected for this task.
Le Corbusier designed a master plan to include the area surrounding the museum. The design itself evolved into a building far exceeding the original brief, and the library, a small lecture hall, and a room for distinguished guests had to be removed. Nonetheless, the removed elements were retained in the plans to guide the future extension.
Le Corbusier asked that his three Japanese apprentices: Kunio Maekawa, Junzo Sakakura, and Takamasa Yoshizaka, be responsible for developing the detailed drawings and supervising the construction.
The museum is square in plan, with the main body of the galleries raised on piloti to the first-floor level. The layout is influenced by Le Corbusier’s Sanskar Kendra Museum in Ahmedabad, which was being designed simultaneously.
Externally the building is clad in prefabricated concrete panels which sit on U-shaped frames supported by the inner wall. The building generally is constructed of reinforced concrete, and the columns have a smooth concrete finish.
National Museum of Western Art Plans
National Museum of Western Art Gallery
About Le Corbusier
Le Corbusier, or Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (1887 -1965), was an international influential Swiss architect and city planner whose designs combined the functionalism of the modern movement with bold, sculptural expressionism. He belonged to the first generation of the International School of Architecture.
In his architecture, he joined the functionalist aspirations of his generation with a strong sense of expressionism. He was the first architect to make a studied use of rough-cast concrete, satisfying his taste for asceticism and sculptural forms. In 2016, 17 of his architectural works were named World Heritage sites by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) including Villa Savoye and the Ronchamp Chapel.
Full Bio of Le Corbusier | Other works from Le Corbusier
- Supervisors: Junzo Sakakura, Kunio Maekawa, Takamasa Yoshizaka
- Construction: Shimizu Corporation
- Tadayoshi, Fujiki, August 1959 “The Modular in the National Museum of Western Art” Japan Architect, p48
- Le Corbusier and the Age of Purism by