2013 Pritzker Prize: Toyo Ito

Portrait of Toyo Ito © Yoshiaki Tsutsui

“Although Mr. Ito has built a great number of buildings in his career, in my view, he has been working on one project all along, -- to push the boundaries of architecture. And to achieve that goal, he is not afraid of letting go what he has accomplished before.” -- Yung Ho Chang, Member of the Pritzker Jury for 2013

Toyo Ito has been announced as the Pritzker laureate for 2013. Ito is the thirty-seventh recipient of the Pritzker Prize and its sixth Japanese recipient.

The Pritzker jury applauded Ito for his ability to synthesize many architectural languages and functionalities in the expression of one personal “syntax,” inspired by the organic structures found in nature and the sensual nature of the human user. 

Calling him a “creator of timeless buildings,” the Pritzker Jury further praised Ito for “infusing his designs with a spiritual dimension and for the poetics that transcend all his works.” Among those works, the Jury singled out his Sendai Mediatheque, whose innovative use of structural tubes “permitted new interior spatial qualities,” TOD’S Omotesando building in Tokyo, “where the building skin also serves as structure,” and Tokyo’s Tama Art University Library as particularly inspiring.

In response to the accolade, the highest award in the profession of architecture, Ito humbly expressed that, with each project, he only becomes more “painfully aware of [his] inadequacy, and it turns into energy to challenge the next project.” For that reason, Ito professed, “I will never fix my architectural style and never be satisfied with my works.”

Read more of the Jury’s selection of Toyo Ito as the 2013 Pritzker Laureate, after the break...

Sendai Mediatheque / Toyo Ito. Image © Nacasa & Partners

While the Jury stressed Ito's conceptual innovation as the reasoning for his selection, they also mentioned his commitment to the mentorship of young architects (his studio has nurtured many renowned architects, including 2010 Pritzker Prize Laureates Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa) as well as his social responsibility, giving mention to his work on the “Home-for-All” project, providing small communal spaces for those affected by the earthquake in Japan in 2011.

It is this project that Ito actually holds most dear, as it forced him to re-conceptualize what is architecture and who it is for. As Ito says in Toyo Ito - Forces of Nature, published by Princeton Architectural Press: “In the modern period, architecture has been rated highest for its originality. As a result, the most primal themes—why a building is made and for whom—have been forgotten. A disaster zone, where everything is lost offers the opportunity for us to take a fresh look, from the ground up, at what architecture really is. ‘Home-for-All’ may consist of small buildings, but it calls to the fore the vital question of what form architecture should take in the modern era—even calling into question the most primal themes, the very meaning of architecture.”

Indeed, as Toyo Ito shared with us in an interview given at the Venice Biennale, for him, architecture is first and foremost for the people it serves: "In contemporary society, I think that 99% of architecture has become the instrument for economical activities, and I am very sorry for that. Because I think that architecture is supposed to be something that links people to other people, architecture has to become a form of cooperation, a co-operational body for people. It should not be something that is controlled by economy, but that creates a relationship of trust among people. This is what architects are supposed to do when they create architecture.”

The Pritzker Prize is the latest in a succession of prestigious awards for Ito, who also received the 22nd Praemium Imperiale in Honor of Prince Takamatsu in 2010; The Royal Institute of British Architects’ Royal Gold Medal in 2006; and the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement for the 8th Venice Biennale International Exhibition in 2002.

The 2013 Prizker Jury was made up of The Lord Palumbo, internationally known architectural patron of London, chairman of the trustees, Serpentine Gallery; Alejandro Aravena, architect and executive director of Elemental in Santiago, Chile; Stephen Breyer, U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Washington, D.C.; Yung Ho Chang, architect and educator, Beijing, The People’s Republic of China; Glenn Murcutt, architect and 2002 Pritzker Laureate of Sydney, Australia; and Juhani Pallasmaa, architect, professor and author of Helsinki, Finland. Martha Thorne, associate dean for external relations, IE School of Architecture & Design, Madrid, Spain, is the executive director of the prize.

Tama Art University Library / Toyo Ito. Image © Iwan Baan

Read on for the Jury’s Citation, in full: 

Throughout his career, Toyo Ito has been able to produce a body of work that combines conceptual innovation with superbly executed buildings. Creating outstanding architecture for more than 40 years, he has successfully undertaken libraries, houses, parks, theaters, shops, office buildings and pavilions, each time seeking to extend the possibilities of architecture. A professional of unique talent, he is dedicated to the process of discovery that comes from seeing the opportunities that lie in each commission and each site.

Whoever reviews Ito’s works notices not only a variety of functional programs, but also a spectrum of architectural languages. He has gradually developed and perfected a personal architectural syntax, which combines structural and technical ingenuity with formal clarity. His forms do not comply with either a minimalist or a parametric approach. Different circumstances lead to different answers. From the outset, he developed works that were modern, using standard industrial materials and components for his lightweight structures, such as tubes, expanded meshes, perforated aluminum sheeting and permeable fabrics. His later expressive works have been formed using mostly reinforced concrete. In a truly extraordinary way, he is able to keep structure, space, setting, technology, and place on equal footing. Although the resulting buildings seem effortlessly in balance, they are the result of his deep knowledge of his craft and his ability to deal with all the aspects of architecture simultaneously. In spite of 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. 

Innovative is a word often used to describe Toyo Ito’s works. This is apparent in the temporary pavilion created in Bruges in 2002 and the TOD’S building in Tokyo in 2004 where the building skin also serves as structure. Innovation can also be demonstrated through his use of traditional materials in non-conventional ways, such as using concrete to create flowing organic forms as he did in the commercial development of VivoCity in Singapore. In addition, his buildings abound with new technological inventions, as can be seen in the Dome in Odate or the Tower of Winds of Yokohama. This innovation is only possible through Ito’s process of carefully and objectively analyzing each situation before proposing a solution.

Ito has said that he strives for architecture that is fluid and not confined by what he considers to be the limitations of modern architecture. In the Sendai Mediatheque, 2000, he achieved this by structural tubes, which permitted new interior spatial qualities. In the Taichung Metropolitan Opera House, the horizontal and vertical network of spaces creates opportunities for communication and connection. Seeking freedom from the rigidity of a grid, Ito is interested in relationships -- between rooms, exterior and interior, and building and surroundings. Toyo Ito‘s work has drawn on inspiration from the principles of nature, as evidenced by the unity achieved between organic-like structures, surface and skin.

Toyo Ito’s personal creative agenda is always coupled with public responsibility. It is far more complex and riskier to innovate while working on buildings where the public is concerned, but this has not deterred him. He has said that architecture must not only respond to one’s physical needs, but also to one’s senses. Of his many inspiring spaces, the Municipal Funeral Hall in Gifu Prefecture of 2006 or the Tama Art University Library in Tokyo, 2007 or the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London in 2002 are but three examples that illustrate Ito’s cognizant understanding of the people and the activities within his buildings. His work in favor of “Home-for-All” or small communal spaces for those affected by the earthquake in Japan in 2011 is a direct expression of his sense of social responsibility. 

The education of future architects has always been a concern of Toyo Ito. This is apparent in his teaching positions and in the recent rebuilding of the Silver Hut as part of the Toyo Ito Museum of Architecture in Omishima, which is used for workshops and research. Perhaps a more perfect example is his office, which is like a school where young architects come to work and learn. It is evident that while innovating and pushing the boundaries of architecture forward, he does not close the road behind him. 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.

Toyo Ito is 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. For these reasons and for his synthesis of structure, space and form that creates inviting places, for his sensitivity to landscape, for infusing his designs with a spiritual dimension and for the poetics that transcend all his works, Toyo Ito is awarded the 2013 Pritzker Architecture Prize. 

About this author
Cite: Vanessa Quirk. "2013 Pritzker Prize: Toyo Ito" 19 Mar 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/344740/2013-pritzker-prize-toyo-ito> ISSN 0719-8884

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