Heritage Forum

Toyo Ito 2013 winner of the Pritzker Prize

Mar 22, 2013 | Awards, Forum, News

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. Click here to view previous years’ Laureates.

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