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Spotlight: Toyo Ito

As one of the leading architects of Japan's increasingly highly-regarded architecture culture, 2013 Pritzker Laureate Toyo Ito (born June 1, 1941) has defined his career by combining elements of minimalism with an embrace of technology, in a way that merges both traditional and contemporary elements of Japanese culture.

Tower of Winds. Image © Tomio OhashiTama Art University Library. Image © Iwan BaanSendai Mediatheque. Image © Nacasa & Partners Inc.Taichung Metropolitan Opera House. Image © Lucas K. Doolan+ 16

A Brief History of the Windowless House

In this article, originally published by Metropolis as "Houses Without Windows: Meditative Respites or Architectural Straightjackets?", Komal Sharma looks into the architectural oddity that is the completely enclosed house. While many would shudder at the idea, there is a rich history of houses which, in exceptional circumstances and with exceptional clients, make sense without windows.

The Vertical Glass House by Chinese architects Atelier FCJZ is disingenuous to say the least. Its name suggests a vertical derivative of Philip Johnson's canonical house, and in fact its architects describe it as a 90-degree rotation of the typical modernist glass house. Instead, what welcomes visitors at Shanghai's Xuhui waterfront is a four-story concrete house without any windows. Where is all that promised glass, you might ask?

The answer is inside. The house's textured concrete walls give it the appearance of a bunker, but the interiors are actually light-filled. The architects accomplish this through an inverted sense of space. Where one expects walls of glass, yielding a platonic prism that brazenly exposes inhabitants to the outside world, the house instead delivers a surprising twist: the 7-cm-thick floor slabs are completely transparent, endowing users with a Superman-like sense of see-through vision. The experience of looking up through all of the house's spaces, even the most private spaces like the bathroom, is breathtakingly novel.

Read on for more about the phenomenon of window-less houses

The Leiria House (2010) appears as a ghostly reflection of the quintessential home. Image © FG+SGThe U-House by Toyo Ito (1976). Image © Koji TakiThe interior structure of the Vertical Glass House divides the floor area into four quadrants. Image Courtesy of Atelier FCJZThe source of illumination for the Ryunsenji House (2008) in Japan, is a light well on the roof. Image Courtesy of Uno Tomoaki+ 8

AD Classics: White U / Toyo Ito

Toyo Ito was commissioned for this building by his older sister after her husband sadly lost his battle with cancer in the 1970s. Having lived for a number of years in a high-rise apartment, she and her two young daughters wished to move to a site which had more connection to the ground; as luck would have it, the site next to Ito's own house was being sold at the time.

The Life and Work of Toyo Ito, 2013 Pritzker Laureate

© Yoshiaki Tsutsui
© 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...

Tama Art University Library. Image © Iwan Baan.Sendai Mediathique. Image © Nacasa & Partners.2002 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion. Image © Sylvain DeleuWhite U, one of Ito's first works. Image © Koji Taki+ 8