Arata Isozaki has been named the 2019 laureate of the Pritzker Prize for Architecture. Isozaki, who has been practicing architecture since the 1960s, has long been considered an architectural visionary for his transnational and fearlessly futurist approach to design. With well over 100 built works to his name, Isozaki is also incredibly prolific and influential among his contemporaries. Isozaki is the 49th architect and eighth Japanese architect to receive the honor.
Said the jury of Isozaki in the award citation: “...in his search for meaningful architecture, he created buildings of great quality that to this day defy categorizations, reflect his constant evolution, and are always fresh in their approach.”
“I’ve always felt that the most important thing is finding a way of escaping the framework or aesthetic consciousness with which I am burdened.”
Born in 1931 in Oita, a town on Japan’s Island of Kyushu, Isozaki’s entré into architecture was profoundly affected by the world events of the time. Isozaki was just 12 years old when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were decimated in World War Two; his own hometown was burned to the ground during the war. “When I was old enough to begin an understanding of the world, my hometown was burned down. Across the shore, the Atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, so I grew up on ground zero. It was in complete ruins, and there was no architecture, no buildings and not even a city...So, my first experience of architecture was the void of architecture, and I began to consider how people might rebuild their homes and cities.”
Isozaki took this worldview with him to the University of Tokyo, where he graduated from the Faculty of Architecture and Engineering in 1954. He followed this with a Ph.D. at the same faculty before beginning his architectural career in earnest at the office of Kenzo Tange. Isozaki quickly became Tange’s protege, working closely with the 1987 Pritzker Laureate before leaving to establish his own office in 1963.
Japan at the time was in a period of immense change and reinvention. Japan had been released from Allied Occupation only a decade prior, and the country was still reeling from the aftereffects of global war and occupation. “In order to find the most appropriate way to solve these problems, I could not dwell upon a single style,” says Isozaki. “Change became constant. Paradoxically, this came to be my own style.”
“Change became constant. Paradoxically, this came to be my own style.”
Indeed, Isozaki’s early work is notable for its decidedly futurist approach, one visible in City in the Air, his aspirational masterplan for Shinjuku. In this vision, elevated layers of buildings, residences, and transport would float above the old city - an extreme response to the (at the time) voracious pace of urbanization and modernization in Japan. Though the plan was never realized, it set the tone for many of Isozaki’s future projects and led to additional masterplan/urban visions for cities across the world.
The formal language that characterizes much of Isozaki’s works - a characteristic fusion of combination of Metabolism and Brutalism - was one developed in collaboration with mentor Kenzo Tange, the architect widely considered to be the founding father of Japanese Metabolism.
Originally named the Burnt Ash School after the environment from which it sprung, Metabolism fused ideas of organic growth with the architecture of futuristic megastructures. Isozaki was profoundly involved in the development and perpetuation of Metabolism, as seen in projects such as the Oita Prefectural Library, the Iwata Girls’ High School, and numerous projects for the Fukuoka City Bank.
But it was in 1970 the Isozaki vaulted to international renown, as his Festival Plaza at EXPO70 (the first world fair hosted by Japan) captivated global visitors. Isozaki went on to complete other significant works such as the Art Tower Mitor, LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona. More recently, Isozaki completed the Hunan Provincial Museum, the Harbin Concert Hall, the Krakow Concert Hall, and the Allianz Tower in Milan.
“Isozaki’s oeuvre has been described as heterogeneous and encompasses descriptions from vernacular to high tech,” said the Pritzker jury in the award citation. “What is patently clear is that he has not been following trends but forging his own path.”
Isozaki has received numerous awards over the course of his career, most notably the Architectural Institute of Japan’s Annual Prize in 1974, the RIBA Gold Medal in 1986, the American Institute of Architects’ Honor Award in 1992.
The 2019 Pritzker Prize ceremony will take place in France's Chateau de Versailles this May, and will be accompanied by a public lecture by Isozaki in Paris.
Arata Isozaki, born in Ōita, Island of Kyushu, Japan is known as a versatile, influential, and truly international architect. Setting up his own practice in the 1960s Isozaki became the first Japanese architect to forge a deep and long-lasting relationship between East and West. Possessing a profound knowledge of architectural history and theory, and embracing the avant-garde, he never merely replicated the status quo but challenged it. And in his search for meaningful architecture, he created buildings of great quality that to this day defy categorizations, reflect his constant evolution, and are always fresh in their approach.
Over the more than 50 years Arata Isozaki has been practicing, he has had an impact on world architecture, through his works, writings, exhibitions, the organization of important conferences and participation on competition juries. He has supported many young architects from across the globe to have a chance to realize their potential. In such endeavors as the Fukuoka Nexus World Housing project (1988-1991) or Toyama Prefecture’s Machi-no-Kao (“face of the city”) program (1991-1999) he invited young international architects to develop catalytic projects in Japan. Isozaki’s oeuvre has been described as heterogeneous and encompasses descriptions from vernacular to high tech. What is patently clear is that he has not been following trends but forging his own path. An early exploration of a new vision for the city is seen in the project City in the Air, from the early 1960s, for a multilayered city which hovers over the traditional city.
His first works in his home country of Japan include a masterpiece of Japanese Brutalism, the Ōita Prefectural Library (1966). Such projects as the Kitakyushu Central Library (1974) and the Gunma Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, opened in 1974, reveal an exploration of a more personal architecture. In the museum, the clear geometry of the cube reflects his fascination with void and grid as it seeks to attain an equilibrium in which to display changing works of art.
Arata Isozaki’s reach and repertoire have expanded over the years to include projects of many scales and typologies and in numerous countries. In the United States, Isozaki is probably most well- known for undertaking the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (1986) and the Team Disney building in Florida (1991). The first is a study of the vault or what he calls “rhetoric of the cylinder” and the second is evidenced by a more playful use of shapes with a postmodern flair.
Many know his work through such significant buildings as the Sant Jordi Stadium for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. He has undertaken exemplary works in China such as the CAFA (China Central Academy of Fine Arts) Art Museum in Beijing opened in 2008 or the Shenzhen Cultural Center (2007) in Shenzhen, Guangdong.
Isozaki has shown extraordinary dynamism in recent years with such works as Qatar Convention Center (2011), the traveling inflatable Ark Nova (2013) designed with Anish Kapoor for regions in Japan affected by the 2011 tsunami, and the powerful yet elegant Allianz Tower in Milan opened in 2018. Once again, it is a testimony to his ability to understand the context in all its complexity and to create a remarkable, well-crafted and inspiring building that is successful from city scale to the interior spaces.
Clearly, he is one of the most influential figures in contemporary world architecture on a constant search, not afraid to change and try new ideas. His architecture rests on profound understanding, not only of architecture but also of philosophy, history, theory, and culture. He has brought together East and West, not through mimicry or as a collge, but through the forging of new paths. He has set an example of generosity as he supports other architects and encourages them in competitions or through collaborative works. For all these reasons, the Pritzker Architecture Prize Jury has selected Arata Isozaki the 2019 Laureate.
2019 Pritzker Prize Jury
Stephen Breyer: U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Washington, DC.
- André Aranha Corrêa do Lago: Current Brazilian Ambassador to Japan.
Richard Rogers: Architect and Pritzker Laureate 2007. London, England.
- Kazuyo Sejima: Architect and Pritzker Laureate 2010. Japan.
Benedetta Tagliabue: Architect and Educator. Barcelona, Spain.
Ratan N. Tata: Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons, the holding company of the Tata Group. Mumbai, India.
Wang Shu: Architect and Pritzker Laureate 2012. The People’s Republic of China.
Martha Thorne (Executive Director): Dean, IE School of Architecture & Design. Madrid, Spain.