A few days ago, we had the opportunity to talk with Toyo-san, the 2013 Pritzker Prize laureate. A short, but intense talk where Ito shares with us, using precise words, insights about his design process and what he thinks about architecture, everything connected to the human aspects of the profession, understanding and connecting to the people.
For you, what is architecture?
(Laughs) Hard question! Architecture is the relation between one person and another, something that can make people gather.
How did you feel, as an architect, facing the disaster after the 2011 earthquake in Japan?
As a person facing such a disaster, I had the responsibility to do something for the people who had lost their homes in the area, and by talking to the people in the disaster area I saw a similarity to the previous question, what is architecture. I think it was a very good opportunity to rethink, to start from zero what architecture really is fundamentally.
For this project, you invited others to collaborate…
In the contemporary architecture era I feel that the individuality, the personal identity, seems to be a very important aspect. After this disaster I wanted to rethink this individuality, to overcome it, and for this, collaboration was very important.
In the jury citation of the Pritzker Prize you mentioned that you didn’t want to be fixed to a particular style. How do you foster this constant innovation inside your office? What keeps you going forward every day?
I always feel that if one tries to fix his own style, then the only possibility will be down to sophisticate what one has decided on that particular style, which is very frustrating. Rather than fixing on a particular style, I look for meeting new people and talking to them, communicating to them, and from there new ideas and new situations will appear, and that’s what keeps me inspired in many cases.
You mentioned in the citation for the Pritzker that the Sendai Mediatheque is one of the high points of you career. How has this particular building influenced your work?
I feel that before the Mediatheque project, many of my projects could have not been realized. So actually, because of the Mediatheque my thinking has changed and evolved and it has also informed lots of my projects, some of them basically evolved from Sendai Mediatheque, for example the Taichung Opera House and the Library in Gifu, which we call the Media Cosmos. These projects are related to the Sendai Mediatheque and have evolved from the Sendai Mediatheque. I believe that the elements of the Sendai Mediatheque will continue to evolve in the future.
I have had the chance to visit your projects in Japan, but also a house you designed in Chile. How do you approach projects in other countries, other cultures?
I feel that to be involved in projects in other countries it is very difficult to absorb from zero. I feel that the dialogue is very important as a design process, because with the first dialogues with local people new ideas will appear and things I haven’t thought about will arise and then. As the Japanese culture is embodied within me, and that’s why when talking to local people there will be a mix of this knowledge and culture, which will give birth to a new architecture.
How is the process with your clients? Do you remember a particular client who has presented a challenge during the process?
I haven’t had any experience with a client whose challenge has had an impact that has changed the building immensely. Usually during a project we will send the client an image, the client will take a look at this image, and will send a response. And we will take that response, and then again to repeat that feedback. So the project advances, little by little, rather than having one big impact. It is constantly evolving.
Has there been any competition that you have liked to won that you didn’t?
The competition for the Performing Arts Center in Gent, which the office didn´t won unfortunately, it was a very challenging proposal. But the idea has been evolved into the Taichung Opera House, which is currently being built right now, a competition where we evolved the ideas from the Performing Arts Center.
Which things outside the field of architecture inform your work?
I really like taking long walks in the city, not focusing into anything in particular, just paying attention to the different cultures and the food, and from these experiences I receive feedback that turns into design ideas. This happens specially when I am overseas, where even if I don’t speak the local language, the sound and pronunciation of people speaking will inspire my thinking.
I understand that you must be very busy preparing for this award, so that’s it. Thank you very much for your time.