Arata Isozaki.
Arata Isozaki.

Japanese architect Arata Isozaki is the Pritzker Prize 2019 laureate

The pioneer is lauded for understanding that the need for architecture is both global and local

Distinguished Japanese architect, city planner and theorist, Arata Isozaki has recently been announced the laureate of the 2019 Pritzker Architecture Prize. Lauded as a visionary among his international contemporaries, Isozaki, Japan’s most influential post-war architect, is largely credited for creating dialogue between eastern and western societies following World War II.

According to the Pritzker Prize jury, Isozaki possesses a profound knowledge of architectural history and theory, and embraces the avant-garde. His forward-thinking approach, deep commitment to the ‘art of the space’, and transnational methodology have shown in his work since the 1960s, with projects that reconstructed his native hometown including Oita Medical Hall and Oita Prefectural Library. 

“Isozaki was one of the first Japanese architects to build outside of Japan during a time when western civilisations traditionally influenced the east, making his architecture – which was distinctively influenced by his global citizenry – truly international,” said Tom Pritzker, chairman of Hyatt Foundation. “In a global world, architecture needs that communication.”

Till today, Isozaki’s buildings defy stylistic categorisations, and remain fresh in their approach. His early success in architecture came when Japan sought to rebuild itself following the second World War.

Nara Centennial Hall was was the first building of its kind to use pre-cast concrete panels to erect walls and the roof simultaneously.

“I wanted to see the world through my own eyes,” Isozaki said. “So I travelled around the globe at least 10 times before I turned 30. I wanted to feel the life of people in different places and visited extensively inside Japan, but also to the Islamic world, villages in the deep mountains of China, South East Asia, and metropolitan cities in the US. I was trying to find any opportunities to do so, and through this, I kept questioning, ‘what is architecture?’”

Isozaki’s first international commission was the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1981-1986). Though controversial and geographically challenging, the red Indian sandstone building was resolved by the architect’s awareness of scale through an assemblage of volumes, while employing the golden ration and yin yang theory throughout. The building represents the complementary nature of western and eastern relationships. The Pritzker Prize jury also noted Isozaki’s fluid avant-garde approach, which adjusts in response to the needs and influences of each environment through a concept of interrelated time and form called ‘ma’.

His weaving of universality with local identity is apparent in such projects as Ceramic Park Mino (1996-2002) in Gifu, Japan, a ceramics museum situated in a cascading valley which preserves the surrounding vegetation while serving as an extension of the topography through outdoor terraces, observation decks and overlooks. Additionally, his building Palau Sant Jordi (1983-1990) in Barcelona, Spain, designed for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games, features a domed roof built referencing Catalan vault techniques, while the sloped forms were inspired by those of Buddhist temples.

The Cascade plaza at Ceramics Park Mino is the heart of the whole composition. Water trickles down sloping walls to pools lined with different coloured stone slabs.

“Isozaki is a pioneer in understanding that the need for architecture is both global and local – that those two forces are part of a single challenge,” said Justice Stephen Breyer, jury chair. “For many years, he has been trying to make certain that areas of the world that have long traditions in architecture are not limited to that tradition, but help spread those traditions while simultaneously learning from the rest of the world.” Isozaki’s work has thus far surpassed six decades and includes over 100 built works throughout Asia, Europe, North America, the Middle East and Australia.

Other prominent works include the Kitakyushu City Museum of Art (1972-1974 Fukuoka, Japan), Tsukuba Center Building, (1979-1983 Ibaraki, Japan), Art Tower Mito (1986-1990 Ibaraki, Japan), Nara Centennial Hall (1992-1998 Nara, Japan), Pala Alpitour (2002-2006 Torino, Italy), Allianz Tower (2003-2014 Milan, Italy), and Shanghai Symphony Hall (2008-2014 Shanghai, China).

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