In the year 1959, two Modernist museums designed by world renowned architects were erected – Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in the heart of New York City and Le Corbusier’s The National Museum of Western Art in central Tokyo. Wright continued with his signature organic style although the location changed from the Midwest suburbs to Manhattan, while Le Corbusier continued his brutalist style in his only work in the far East. This essay compares their approaches to museum architecture. What role does cultural identity play in the design of such an institution? How are their ideological differences portrayed through the buildings? In what ways do the structures convey the architect’s understanding of a museum and its function? We conduct the analysis in the context of the post WWII period.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum located next to Central park holds a renowned collection modern and contemporary western art, with features special exhibitions throughout the year. Established by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1939, it was designated as the museum of non-objective painting. The current building was Frank Lloyd Wright’s first building in New York City, designed in 1944 and built in 1956.1 The circular building’s most eye-catching feature is the unique slanted gallery that extends up in a continuous spiral along the outer edges of the building, ending just under the skylight.