The National Museum of Western Art (NMWA), Tokyo’s special exhibition “Le Corbusier and the Age of Purism” provides a tangential look at the career of Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (1887-1965), who went on to become better known as the pioneering modernist architect “Le Corbusier.” This survey of his transition from painter to designer of buildings and urban spaces is a revealing origins story that suggests a greater understanding of Le Corbusier’s architectural vision could come from considering his 2D images.

Creator of elegant minimalist villas, and a promoter of raw concrete who used wartime coastal defence fortifications as inspiration for a church, Le Corbusier has been canonized as a creative genius but also vilified as a megalomaniacal opportunist many times over. The acknowledgement most pertinent to this exhibition is the NMWA building itself having been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2016.

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