The jurors of the Pritzker Architecture Prize have named Toyo Ito the 2013 laureate. Tokyo-based Ito has long been regarded as one of architecture’s most inventive minds, and he has produced a large and diverse body of work that pushes the limits of technology, materials, structure, and form. His buildings often express a joyful or poetic sensibility, and yet he seems to approach architecture anew with each project. This knack for reinvention and lack of a signature style accounts, perhaps, for the somewhat lower name recognition he has than some of his peers, all while he routinely creates spectacular and unexpected works of architecture.
Sendai Mediatheque, Miyagi, Japan, 1995-2000. (Tomio Ohashi, left column; Nacasa & Partners, right column)
Demonstrating an early interest in technology, Ito first named his firm Urban Robot when he founded it in 1971. He changed his firm’s name to Toyo Ito & Associates in 1979. He began designing houses in a minimalist vocabulary, often using lightweight structures or unexpected materials. In the mid-eighties he designed a project that used technology to respond to weather conditions, while also providing a counterpoint to commercial signage nearby. The Tower of the Winds, a cylindrical structure ringed with lights, responded the speed of wind gusts through a changing lighting pattern. Arguably his best known project is the Sendai Mediatheque, in Miyagi Japan, completed in 2000, which used an system of structural tubes to support the building, creating new circulation and mechanical pathways through the highly transparent building.
His 2002 pavilion for the Serpentine Gallery in London deployed a fragmented geometry to create a rectilinear structure out of a cubist interplay of intersecting lines, solids, and voids. In 2004 he used a somewhat similar vocabulary to create a concrete exoskeleton for a flagship TOD’S store in Tokyo, though the pattern of concrete there evokes crisscrossing tree branches. More recent projects include the Tama University Art Library, also in Tokyo, which, with its layering of concrete arches of varying scales, is a kind of Japanese twist on Philip Johnson’s “Ballet Modernism,” and the reptilian-skinned stadium he designed for the 2009 World Games in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
Meiso no Mori Municipal Funeral Hall, Gifu Japan, 2004-2006. (Courtesy Hyatt Foundation)
Ito is the sixth Japanese architect to win the Pritzker, the highest honor in the discipline of architecture. He will receive the award at a ceremony at the I.M. Pei-designed John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston on May 29.
The White U House, Tokyo Japan, 1976. (Koji Taki & Tomio Ohashi, lower right)
Main Stadium for the World Games 2009, Kaohsiung, Taiwan, 2009. (Fu Tsu Construction
Toma Art University Library, Tokyo Japan, 2007. (Tomio Ohashi, Iwan Baan, lower right)
Taichung Metropolitan Opera House, Taichung, Taiwan, Ongoing. (Courtesy Hyatt Foundation, renderings by Kuramochi + Oguma)