The Life and Work of Toyo Ito, 2013 Pritzker Laureate

© Yoshiaki Tsutsui

Until his third year of high school, Toyo Ito’s passion was not architecture, but baseball.

Fortunately for us all (and almost assuredly for the Pritzker laureate himself), he soon switched career paths.

Born in Seoul in 1941, Ito moved to Japan at the tender age of two. From the age of 12 (when his father died) to the time he went to University, Ito was part of the family business: making miso (bean paste). However, upon attending The University of Tokyo from 1965-1969, architecture became his life work. 

Read more on the life and work of Toyo Ito, the 2013 Pritzker Laureate, after the break...

The Life and Work of Toyo Ito, 2013 Pritzker Laureate  - More Images+ 3

Thanks in part to his prize-winning undergraduate thesis, a proposal for the reconstruction of Ueno Park, Ito began working in the firm of Kiyonori Kikutake & Associates. In 1971, he started his own studio in Tokyo, originally named Urban Robot (Urbot); in 1979 he changed the name to Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects.

Most of Ito’s early comissions were residences in and around Tokyo. 

White U, one of Ito's first works. Image © Koji Taki

  • One of his first, in 1971, was a home called “Aluminum House,” which consisted of a wooden frame completely covered in aluminum.  
  • In 1976, he designed “White U”, a home for his sister (pictured above), which generated a great deal of interest in Ito’s works. 

Silver Hut. Image © Tomio Ohashi

Of his work in the 1980’s, Ito told the Pritzker Prize that “he was seeking to erase conventional meaning from his works through minimalist tactics, developing lightness in architecture that resembles air and wind.” Some notable projects from this period include:

  • Silver Hut (pictured above), was a house Ito designed for himself in 1982; it won the Architecture Institute of Japan award in 1986.
  • Tower of Winds in Yokohama in 1986 (pictured below), which by day appears like a simple aluminum-clad tower and by night lights up in response to sound and wind.
  • The Yatsushiro Municipal Museum in 1988 (which fore-shadows the curved forms and airy spaces that would characterize Ito’s future work; the museum won the 33rd Mainich Art Award in 1992).

Tower of Winds, Image © Tomio Ohashi

However, it is Ito’s work in the 90s that would gain him international recognition. 

  • The Dome in Udate in 1991 (Ito’s first sports arena, which showcases his versatility; the Dome won the Ministry of Education Award for the Encouragement of Arts in 1998 and the Japan Art Academy Prize in 1999).
  • Sendai Mediatheque, designed between 1995-2000, put Ito’s name on the map. According to Ito, the project is among the best of his life’s work. The jury for the 2013 Pritzker Prize similarly noted the project’s merit, saying: “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 he achieved this by structural tubes, which permitted new interior spatial qualities.” The building has been awarded the Grand Prize of Good Design Award in 2001, the Architectural Institute of Japan Prize in 2003, and the Public Building Award in 2006.

Sendai Mediathique. Image © Nacasa & Partners.

From 2000 on, Ito and his work have received dozens of awards and much critical acclaim. In 2006, Ito received The Royal Institute of British Architects’ Royal Gold Medal and in 2010 the Ito received 22nd Praemium Imperiale in Honor of Prince Takamatsu. The Some highlights from this period include:

2002 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion. Image © Sylvain Deleu

Tama Art University Library. Image © Iwan Baan.

The latest of Ito's accomplishment is his most prestigious. In March of this year, he was awarded The 2013 Pritzker Architecture Prize, the highest award bestowed upon an architect. 

About this author
Cite: Vanessa Quirk. "The Life and Work of Toyo Ito, 2013 Pritzker Laureate " 17 Mar 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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