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Exhibition / Le Corbusier : A Dialogue with Ronchamp Hill
What Takamasa Yosizaka Learnt from the Living Breaths of a Master

Yuri Fujii
Associate Professor of the Department of Architecture, School of Creative Science and Engineering, Waseda University

It was officially decided at the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting held on July 17, 2016 that 17 architectural works by the master of modernism, Le Corbusier (1887–1965), would be added to the World Heritage List. These 17 works include the Notre Dame du Haut (Ronchamp Chapel) in France and the National Museum of Western Art located in Ueno, Tokyo, the only project by Le Corbusier in Japan. An exhibition featuring these two works called "Le Corbusier: A Dialogue with Ronchamp Hill—What Takamasa Yosizaka Learnt from the Living Breaths of a Master" was held at Waseda University Aizu Museum. This article will introduce the highlights of this exhibition and trace over the links between Waseda University and Le Corbusier.

At first, allow me to simply explain the layout of this exhibition. It is divided into two parts: the exhibition room on the first floor and the permanent collection on the second floor. The first floor mainly contains displays related to Le Corbusier's Ronchamp Chapel, specifically the blueprints used by Le Corbusier at the actual building site of the chapel and sketches resulting from investigations conducted by the Waseda University Research & Measurement Survey Group on Le Corbusier. In addition, exterior models of the building have been constructed at a scale of 1/200, which include the actual hill (initial plan), together with interior models at 1/20 of their original size. Video footage and photographs showing the attic of the chapel are available as well. On the second floor, items related to Takamasa Yosizaka, who taught at the Department of Architecture, Waseda University and worked at the atelier of Le Corbusier, are exhibited. Project sketches that Yosizaka oversaw when he was a resident at Le Corbusier's studio, along with a diary describing his life in France and the events that occurred at the office, are also on display.

First Floor Exhibition Area (Models)
Photographed by the author of this article

First Floor Exhibition Area (Blueprints)
Photographed by the author of this article

On-site Survey of the Ronchamp Chapel and Surrounding Buildings

Since Waseda University Research & Measurement Survey Group on Le Corbusier was formed in 2013, it has continuously conducted on-site surveys of Ronchamp Chapel, the Priest's House, and the Pilgrims' House. It was even the first group to conduct a survey of the surrounding buildings covering the entire Ronchamp hill since their construction. Le Corbusier's works are particularly notable for their white, modernist and cubic appearance. Video footage and photographs from inside the distinctive roof of Ronchamp Chapel, which is famous for its sculptural shape and discloses the so-called “architectural backstage,” have not previously been made public. Surely, both people who have studied architecture and those who have not will be interested in how the intricate, three-dimensional and freely sculptured shape of the Ronchamp Chapel was constructed. To help imagine how parts of this building were made, there are videos of inside the attic that allows one to see the structure supporting the free form of the building, with the ribs essentially exposed. Upon entering the attic, the little slits at one's feet allow light to filter through from the chapel. One of the chapel's three towers is painted red inside and is connected to the attic by holes. These passages might have been added simply for maintenance, ventilation, or so that the sounds from the church could echo. Or, it could have been for some other reason. There are unlimited possibilities and interpretations as to what they are there for. As the on-site survey of the surrounding buildings remains incomplete, there are plans to continue investigating in the future.

Ronchamp Chapel
©Tetsuyu Shiraishi

On-site survey of the Ronchamp Chapel
©Tetsuyu Shiraishi

Blueprints Show the Steps of Planning

Ronchamp Chapel Blueprint
Overall layout drawing of hill (no pyramid)

The exhibition displays 13 original blueprints actually used by Le Corbusier at the building site. The blueprints are based on original drawings sketched on tracing paper that were then reproduced using a special device (diazo copier). The final forms of the designs are shown with Le Corbusier's on-site changes added and revised onto the original drawings. The actual process is recorded only in the blueprints created each time. Thus, the fascinating thing about these blueprints is that they allow one to trace over the steps in the design process. For example, two of the same "4529" blueprints are displayed together. Although both drawings show the overall layout of Ronchamp hill, one can see that there is a "pyramid" inscribed on the bottom right of the second blueprint that is not present on the first blueprint. Therefore, we can discern that this "pyramid" was added halfway in the project. In addition, kiosks and other buildings were also placed on the paths heading towards the hill. Many discoveries can be made by carefully examining the blueprints, including the design process and elements emphasized in the design as well as annotations to the plans.

Le Corbusier was both an architect and an artist. He was known to spend his mornings in his studio painting on canvas or designing sculptures. He also worked in collaboration on sculptures with Joseph Savina (1901–1983), a woodworker, sending him sketches that he had drawn, which would be then crafted into wooden carvings. Le Corbusier also entrusted the construction of the wooden cross mounted on the brass pedestal at the altar of Ronchamp Chapel to Savina, the sketches for which still exist to this day. Detailed instructions for the materials and surface processing written down on the sketches could conjecture that Le Corbusier requested that Savina work on the piece after being dissatisfied with the work of local woodworkers.

These documents and artifacts are owned by the Association de l'Oeuvre de Notre-Dame du Haut, which maintains, manages and operates the Ronchamp Chapel. When the On-site Measurement Survey Group visited to study the chapel, they were allowed access to these invaluable materials, which were displayed in this exhibition. Permission to hold the exhibition was approved willingly, for Jean-François Mathet, vice president of the association, made great efforts to help the group and even came to Japan to speak in the symposium held during the exhibition. Vice President Mathet gave intriguing insights on the process leading to the construction of Ronchamp Chapel, difficulties faced by Le Corbusier after construction had started, and its completion.

Takamasa Yosizaka and Le Corbusier

Second floor collection Front: Yosizaka's diaries, Back: Sketches drawn by Yosizaka in Le Corbusier’s studio
Photograph taken by the author of this article

Three Japanese architects worked under Le Corbusier: Kunio Maekawa (1905–1986), Junzo Sakakura (1901–1969) and Takamasa Yosizaka (1917–1980). Yosizaka was the youngest of the three, and he stayed in France from 1950–1952, which was some 20 years later than Maekawa and Sakakura (1928, 1929). Considering the fact that planning for the Ronchamp Chapel started in 1950, Yosizaka must have seen Le Corbusier designing the chapel in his studio while working on sketches for the other projects, including the Unité d'Habitation (Rezé, Nantes), the Church of Peace and Acquittal (La Sainte-Baume) and the Roq and Rob (Cap-Martin, Mediterranean, seaside residential division). The curvy lines in the study of Roq and Rob’s residential arrangement are particularly typical of Yosizaka's style. The signature of "TAKA" (or 隆/"Taka" in Japanese) can be seen on the sketches that Yosizaka oversaw.

Yosizaka also left many diaries, sketchbooks and letters to his wife, Fukuko. His diaries describe in detail his journey to France from Japan, his first meeting with Le Corbusier at the architect's office, and when he first started thinking about returning to Japan. A scribbled drawing of Le Corbusier's trademark "crow" has been left in Yosizaka's sketchbook dated October 6, 1951, which was Le Corbusier's 64th birthday. He wrote that he trusted his three Japanese apprentices and that he hoped to one day go to Japan and see Mount Fuji. Later, in 1955, the design for the National Museum of Western Art began with Mae (Maekawa), Saka (Sakakura) and Taka (Yosizaka) as design collaborators. Within the same year, Le Corbusier traveled to Japan and the Ronchamp Chapel was completed.

We feel the visitors can feel what was experienced by Le Corbusier and Yosizaka through the dialogues between Le Corbusier and Ronchamp Hill and between Yosizaka and Le Corbusier through this exhibition. It might also be possible to look over Yosizaka’s shoulders to engage in a dialogue with a glimpse of Le Corbusier, making appearances in Waseda architecture.

Le Corbusier : A Dialogue with Ronchamp Hill
What Takamasa Yosizaka Learnt from the Living Breaths of a Master
Period June 29 (Wed)–August 7 (Sun), 2016
Venue Waseda University Aizu Museum
Hours 10:00–17:00 (admission until 16:30)
Admission fee Free
Closed on Sundays, Public Holidays, but open on July 18 (Public Holiday) and August 7 (Sun)
Co-organization Department of Architecture Waseda University, Research Institute for Science and Engineering Waseda University, Waseda University Institute for Architecture and Architectural Engineering, and Aizu Museum
Planned by Executive Committee for the Le Corbusier : A Dialogue with Ronchamp Hill Exhibition, Waseda University
Backing Fondation Le Corbusier, Association de l'Oeuvre de Notre-Dame du Haut, Embassy of Switzerland in Japan, Ambassae de France au Japan /Institut français du Japon, and Architectural Institute of Japan
Related events Symposium I "On-site Survey of Ronchamp Hill + Le Corbusier and Takamasa Yosizaka"
Date: July 2 (Sat) 2016, 14:30–17:00
Venue: Ono Auditorium, Waseda University
Symposium II "Dialogue with Ronchamp Hill"
Date: July 16 (Sat), 2016, 14:30–17:30
Venue: Ono Auditorium, Waseda University
Keynote speaker:
Jean-François Mathey
Vice president of the Association de l'Oeuvre de Notre-Dame du Haut

Yuri Fujii
Associate Professor of the Department of Architecture, School of Creative Science and Engineering, Waseda University

Associate Professor Fujii specializes in architectural design and research of architectural theory. Her main architectural works include New Miyajima Residence (2012) and the H Residence (2014). She was a co-supervisor for the translation of Reading Architecture: A Visual Lexicon (Author: Owen Hopkins) (2013) and collaborated on the translation of La Ville Radieuse (Author: Le Corbusier) (2016). One of the main projects that she oversaw during 2001–2004 when she was present at Studio Daniel Libeskind was the Royal Ontario Museum.