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UN recognition for a Tokyo favourite

Jul 27. 2016
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By Japan News/Yomiuri
Asia News

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Unesco adds the National Museum of Western Art to its list of cultural heritage sites
A work of modern architecture familiar to the public in Tokyo has gained global recognition with Unesco adding the National Museum of Western Art in Ueno Park to its World Cultural Heritage list.
The decision was made at a session of the UN agency’s World Heritage Committee in Istanbul, Turkey, in one of several deliberations delayed significantly because of the attempted coup. Despite two previous deferrals, the museum became Japan’s 16th designated cultural-heritage site.
The museum is the creation of Frenchman Le Corbusier, one of the leading architects of the 20th century. Seven countries, including Japan, France, Germany and Argentina, jointly recommended 17 buildings he designed for inclusion on the list.
Le Corbusier is renowned as a pioneer of modern architecture. His designs utilised diverse building materials such as concrete and glass that can be produced in large volumes, attaching importance to both rationality and functionality.
The 17 buildings – registered together in a first for the committee – were accepted because his architectural culture, which has spread globally, is so highly valued.
The Tokyo museum, the only East Asian building on the list, was built in 1959 to house and display works collected in France by businessman Kojiro Matsukata before the end of World War II.
It was constructed based on Le Corbusier’s concept of a “museum of unlimited growth”, in which corridors spiral outward from the centre to allow the easy addition of new rooms to the exterior. Using columns to raise the bulk of the structure off the ground is also a characteristic of Le Corbusier’s designs. Since the National Museum of Western Art is regarded as the culmination of Le Corbusier’s work in museum construction, its registration by Unesco represents a major achievement for Japan.
Le Corbusier, who produced such famous disciples as Junzo Sakakura and Kunio Maekawa, also helped establish the foundation for modern Japanese architecture.
The registration of major ruins and historical buildings on the World Cultural Heritage list has almost run its course. There is a high possibility that modern architecture will henceforth become the main focus of registration.
Another campaign has begun to have the national Yoyogi 1st Gymnasium in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward – designed by Kenzo Tange for the 1964 Olympics – also listed.
A project in connection with the 2020 Games to be held in Tokyo has been progressing, the aim being to make Ueno Park and its surroundings an international cultural city and “the face of Tokyo”.
The Japanese government has been slow to acknowledge the country’s modern architecture as cultural assets, the Yomiuri noted in an editorial. It expressed hope that the museum’s registration would “provide an opportunity to once again recognise the value of modern architecture”.

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