Toyo Ito's fluid space

Pritzker winner

Toyo Ito's fluid space

Toyo Ito, a name synonymous with modern day Japanese architecture, is the most recent recipient of the prestigious Pritzker award, considered the Nobel Prize in Architecture. Ito will be awarded the $100,000 grant on May 29 in a ceremony at the Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. The Pritzker award aims to honour an exceptional living architect ‘whose built work demonstrates a combination of talent, vision and commitment’.

Instituted by the Hyatt family, this prize has been modelled after the Nobel Prize. The Pritzker laureates have made significant contributions to the built environment and the past recipients include architects Wang Shu (China, 2012), Eduardo Souto de Moura (Portugal, 2011),  SAANA (Japan, 2010) and Peter Zumthor (Switzerland, 2009) amongst a list that have included pioneers like IM Pei (US), Glenn Murcutt (Australia), Frank Gehry (US) and Zaha Hadid (UK). Philip Johnson was the first architect to be awarded with the prize in 1979. Pritzker juries in the past have comprised renowned Indian Architects Charles Correa (1993-1998) and B V Doshi (2005-2007).

Ito is the sixth recipient of the award from Japan. The past recipients have been the late Kenzo Tange in 1987, Fumihiko Maki in 1993, Tadao Ando in 1995, and Ito’s own protégé Kazuyo Sejima (who worked at Toyo Ito Associates in the 80s) along with Ryue Nishizawa (SAANA) won the award in 2010.

Ito’s style

The Pritzker jury commended Ito as ‘a creator of timeless buildings, who at the same time boldly charts new paths. His architecture projects an air of optimism, lightness and joy, and is infused with both a sense of uniqueness and universality’.

Ito’s remarkable pursuit for excellence is evident in his statement made in response to the Pritzker citation — “When one building is completed, I become painfully aware of my own inadequacy and it turns into energy to challenge the next project. Probably, this process must keep repeating itself in the future,” he said.

Ito’s journey began as an aspiring baseball player, only to be drawn to the discipline of architecture while at the University of Toyko, where he obtained the highest awards and through his work with the Metabolist architect Kiyonori Kikutake & Associates after his graduation in 1965. In 1971, Ito started his independent practice, Urban Robot ‘Urbot’, which was renamed Toyo Ito Associates, Architects in 1979. Ito’s seminal architecture has since spanned across project typologies (residential, museums, cemeteries, schools, opera houses) in several countries (Spain, Netherlands, Chile,Taiwan etc), apart from numerous important projects in his own country Japan.

In his prolific 40 years of architectural practice, Ito has been honoured with a series of significant awards including in 2010, the 22nd Praemium Imperiale in Honour of Prince Takamatsu; in 2006, The Royal Institute of British Architects’ Royal Gold Medal; and in 2002, the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement for 8th Venice Biennale International Exhibition. His contributions to built works in the public realm remain enormous, a fact recognised by the Pritzker Jury. Ito was the curator of the Japanese Pavilion at the 2012, 13th architecture Biennale held at Venice. This pavilion was honoured with the Golden Lion. The pavilion centered on ‘Architecture Possible Here? Home-for-All’, the creation of communal spaces for those affected by the 2011 tsunami.

His projects have been known for their innovative conceptual premise. One of his early cutting edge projects included the Tower of Winds in Yokohoma (1986), a tower that was clad in aluminum and transformed into an ephemeral reflecting device at dusk.

Ito’s architecture often draws inspiration from the natural world and an organic quality comprises his structurally sophisticated buildings. Sendai Mediatheque (2000) in Miyagi Japan is perhaps his most pivotal project. It is a transparent building that virtually incorporates the city into the into realm of the building. 

Notions of structure and skin predominate the design of The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion (2002) designed by Ito with Arup, a fascinating temporary structure for discussions, built with steel and glass. Surface is also structure in the Mikimoto building (2005) in Tokyo and in the Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre (2004), Japan.

Ito won critical acclaim for the Tod’s Omotesando Building in Tokyo (2004). The building, wrapped in concrete and glass, draws inspiration from the structure of the magnificent Zelkova Serrata trees situated on the Omotesando Boulevard, thereby creating a dialogue between the inside and the outside.

Beyond comparison

Ito’s buildings are a sublime union of craft and technology. Breaking away from the rigidity of the grid and the constraining norms of modern architecture, Ito has infused his architecture with an organic quality. This is visible in the sinuous roof (made of un-imaginably thin concrete) that blends with the forms of the distant mountains in the Municipal Crematorium (2006) in Gifu, Japan.

“Despite the complexity of his works, their high degree of synthesis means that his works attain a level of calmness that ultimately allows the inhabitants to freely develop their activities within them,” the Pritzker jury stated. His Tama Art University Library (2007) in Hachioji, Tokyo designed with slender intersecting arches, elucidates this fact superbly. The arches are made of steel plates, clad with concrete, that imparts a sense of dynamism. The building has been approached as an urban space, which engages with the student community in an un-programmed interaction with the building.

His most recent works include the Ken Iwata Mother and Child Museum at the Imabari City in Ehime (2011), Japan and the Toyo Ito Museum of Architecture at Imabari, Japan (2011). A visionary architect, Ito has taught and lectured widely. His atelier continues to nurture future leaders in architecture.

“He is a pioneer and encourages others to benefit from his discoveries and for them to advance in their own directions as well. In that sense, he is a true master who produces oxygen rather than just consumes it,” the Pritzker Jury cited.

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