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The 2019 Pritzker Prize

Eminent Japanese architect and city planner, Arata Isozaki has been recently announced as the 46th Pritzker laureate.

Nara Centennial Hall, photo courtesy of Hisao Suzuki

It’s that time of the year when the highest professional honour in architecture is announced. Since its inception in 1979, The Pritzker Architecture Prize has honoured a living architect/ architects whose work has significantly contributed to humanity and the built environment.

Arata Isozaki

This year, venerated architect and theorist Arata Isozaki became the 46th recipient of the Pritzker Prize. Isozaki joins several luminaries from his country to become the 8th Japanese architect to win the coveted honour, which is often referred as ‘architecture’s Nobel’. Incidentally, Isozaki was also part of the first Pritzker Prize jury in 1979.

Domus La Casa del Hombre, photo courtesy of Hisao Suzuki

Born in 1931, Isozaki commenced his practice when Japan was in ruins post World War II. During those dark times, the position of architecture in Japan had become obscure. So, he travelled extensively to find answers. The Pritzker Prize webpage quotes the laureate, “I wanted to see the world through my own eyes, so I travelled around the globe at least ten times before I turned thirty. 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?’”

The tower, Art Tower MITO (1990), Yasuhiro ISHIMOTO

The visionary architect made critical contribution in reshaping Japan with structures like Ōita Medical Hall (1959-60) and Annex (1970-1972 Ōita, Japan), and the Ōita Prefectural Library (1962-1966 Ōita, Japan).

Based in Okinawa, with offices across the world, Isozaki has always been lauded for truly representing global design through his work. He effectively bridged the East and the West in times when the world was going through rapid westernisation. Isozaki became the first Japanese architect to build outside Japan, when he designed Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 1981, and thus opened an essential and well-informed dialogue across continents.

His practice spans over six decades with over one hundred built works throughout Asia, Europe, North America, the Middle East and Australia, and includes projects of different typology and scales. The 2019 Jury Citation states, “Possessing a profound knowledge of architectural history and theory, and embracing the avant-garde, he never merely replicated the status quo, but his search for meaningful architecture was reflected in his buildings that to this day, defy stylistic categorisations, are constantly evolving, and always fresh in their approach.”

In his formative years, Isozaki was mentored by legendary architect and another Pritzker laureate, Kenzo Tange. Nine years later, he started out on his own and though his practice was influenced by Tange’s work, he constantly honed his own personal style, which is often viewed as ahead of its time. His vast repertoire boasts of all-inclusive global sensibilities that are infused with purpose and systematic approach. Though legitimately modern his work has always demonstrated a transnational range of building techniques, and acute attention to context and details. Throughout his career, the laureate has supported and encouraged young architects and the jury has also acknowledged his spirit of generosity in its citation.

He believes, design like everything else should evolve with time, and architecture should transcend eras and borders. One of his recent works Ark Nova, which is an inflatable concert hall, accurately represents today’s transitional architecture. The structure houses a 500-seat performance venue, and is made from a stretchy plastic membrane that could be quickly inflated or disassembled to be transported to a new location.

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), Himalayas Center (2003-2013 Shanghai, China), Allianz Tower (2003-2014 Milan, Italy), and Qatar National Convention Center (2004-2011 Doha, Qatar) Isozaki has been awarded with several honours including the RIBA Gold Medal for architecture and Leone d’Oro at the Venice Architectural Biennale, in recognition of his work. The 2019 Pritzker Prize ceremony will take place in May at Chateau de Versailles in Paris.

Text By Shweta Salvi




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