Architecture – Across his six decades-long carrier, Arata Isozaki – the first Japanese architect to build outside his country – created inflatable mobile concert halls, Olympic stadiums merging Catalan vaults with Buddist temples, and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. He won the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2019, the RIBA Gold Medal in 1986, and the Leone d’Oro at the Venice Architectural Biennale in 1996. “What is patently clear is that he has not been following trends but forging his own path,” read the citation issued by the Pritzker jury.
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Arata Isozaki was born in Ōita on the Island of Kyushu, Japan, in 1931. “I grew up on ground zero. My first experience of architecture was the void of architecture,” explained the architect once, referring to the profound impact on him as a child after the Hiroshima nuclear disaster in 1945. It’s then that “I began to consider how people might build their homes and cities.”
Isozaki’s early architectural successes transpired during the era following the Allied occupation of Japan when the country sought to rebuild itself after the ruins of the Second World War. Both European Brutalism and the Japanese postwar metabolism movement inspired the Ōita Prefectural Library (1966) in Japan.
Most recently, in the wake of the 2011 tsunami that devastated his country, he teamed up with Anish Kapoor to create an inflatable mobile concert hall that could visit the affected areas. Made from a stretchy plastic membrane, the venue could be quickly inflated or disassembled. “We named the Project Ark Nova, or ‘new ark,’ with the hope that it will become a symbol of recovery immediately after the great earthquake disaster,” said the designers.
Explorative journeys across the globe forged the cross-cultural imprint of Isozaki’s oeuvre. “I wanted to see the world through my own eyes, so I traveled around the globe at least ten times before I turned thirty.” recalled the Laureate.
“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 U.S. I was trying to find any opportunities to do so, and through this, I kept questioning, ‘what is architecture?’,” recalls the Laureate.
His buildings appear geometrically simple but are infused with theory and purpose. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1981-1986 Los Angeles, United States) was the architect’s first international commission.
Though controversial and geographically challenging, the red Indian sandstone building was resolved by Isozaki’s eloquent awareness of scale through an assemblage of volumes while employing the golden ratio and yin-yang theory throughout, evoking the complementary nature of western and eastern relationships.
His works balance global universality and local identity. The Ceramic Park Mino (1996-2002 Gifu, Japan), a ceramics museum situated in a cascading valley, preserves surrounding vegetation while serving as an extension of the topography through outdoor terraces, observation decks, and overlooks, detailed with regional stoneware bricks and ceramic.
Designed for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games, Palau Sant Jordi (1983-1990 Barcelona, Spain) is positioned partially below ground to minimize the profile of the 17,000-person facility and instead highlight the surrounding Montjuïc hillside. The domed roof was built referencing Catalan vault techniques, while those of Buddhist temples inspired the sloped forms.
The Museum of Modern Art Gunma (1974, Japan) was conceived as an arrangement of cubes combined to form a large rectangular block with projecting wings. The Nara Centennial Hall (1992-1998, Japan) is distinguished by its giant curving profile and facade of zinc and grey ceramic tiles, which make reference to the roofs of the city’s Todaiji Temple.
The Domus Museum in CITY (1995, Spain) was developed with César Portela and features large granite walls and a single curved facade composed of 6,600 slate tiles, which enclose a series of exhibition spaces positioned over platforms connected by ramps.
Among the most recently completed projects also the Allianz Tower in Milan (2003-2014, Italy), which harnesses the forward-thinking attitude of Italy’s business capital, the Qatar National Convention Center in Doha (2004-2011, Qatar – read more), and the saddle-shaped Shanghai Symphony Hall (2008-2014, China), cladded in terracotta bricks.
Isozaki was the 46th recipient of the illustrious Pritzker Prize and the eighth Japanese architect to have received the honour. “Isozaki was one of the first Japanese architects to build outside of Japan during a time when western civilizations traditionally influenced the East, making his architecture—which was distinctively influenced by his global citizenry—truly international,” comments Tom Pritzker, Chairman of Hyatt Foundation. “In a global world, architecture needs that communication.”
All photos: courtesy of Pritzker Architecture Prize.