The 87-year-old Japanese architect, urban planner and theorist Arata Isozaki has been named the 2019 laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the field’s highest honor. The award’s 46th recipient, and the 8th from Japan, Isozaki, who has long been considered a visionary, is known among his peers as “the emperor of Japanese architecture.”
The internationally renowned architect, who has been practicing architecture since the 1960s, is incredibly prolific, having designed more than 100 structures spanning continents, genres, and time periods, from a 700-foot-high skyscraper in Milan to a contemporary art museum in Los Angeles, a concert hall in Shanghai, an Olympic sports facility in Barcelona and an inflatable concert hall (image above) called the Ark Nova, conceived in collaboration with artist Anish Kapoor to tour regions deeply affected by a major earthquake.
His work seamlessly fuses East and West – “not through mimicry or as a collage,” explained the jury, “but through the forging of new paths” -, bringing together modern and postmodern, high-tech and vernacular, global and local in a heterogeneous, diversified body of work. In citing the award, the jury stated that “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.” While his early style reflected brutalist architecture, he then shifted from cold, boxy, modern designs to incorporating organic curved and vaulted shapes. He approaches each building in his portfolio as a solution to the project’s particular spatial and temporal context rather than limiting himself to a single architectural style – an approach that reflects his interest in the Japanese concept of “ma,” which deals with intervals, the space and time that exist in-between things.
Born in 1931 in Oita on the Island of Kyushu, Isozaki was profoundly affected by the devastation of Hiroshima after the United States dropped the first atomic bomb when he was a teenager. “When I was old enough to begin an understanding of the world, my hometown burned down,” he says. “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. Only barracks and shelters surrounded me. So, my first experience of architecture was the void of architecture, and I began to consider how people might rebuild their homes and cities.”
After receiving his doctorate at Tokyo University, Isozaki worked under Kenzo Tange (winner of the Pritzker in 1987), becoming his protégé before establishing his own firm in 1963. He says that because of the political and economic uncertainty of the period, “change became constant. Paradoxically, this came to be my own style.” His artistic practice also embraces film, performance, furniture, set design, installation and photography.
“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,” said the jury, which also noted Isozaki’s “spirit of generosity” in supporting the work of young architects and acknowledged his the breadth and depth of his theoretical writings.