Arata Isozaki Wins 2019 Pritzker Prize

John Hill
5. March 2019
Photo courtesy of the Pritzker Architecture Prize

Today’s naming of Arata Isozaki (born 1931) as the latest Pritzker Prize laureate comes one year after the prestigious prize went to Indian architect Balkrishna Doshi (b. 1927). When seen in concert with 2015 laureate Frei Otto (1925-2015), there is an apparent propensity for the Pritzker jurors to award the Prize as a lifetime achievement.

But when seen relative to the most recent laureates from Isozaki's home country, the Pritzer Prize has more often been given to architects nearing their prime, not later. Shigeru Ban was 56 when he was named the 2014 recipient, though Toyo Ito was a bit older at 71 when he won in 2013. Kazuyo Sejima was also 56 when she won in 2010, ten years older than fellow laureate Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA.

Focusing on Doshi, who is now 91, and the 87-year-old Isozaki, the Pritzker Architecture Prize is drawing attention to architects who should have been laureates earlier. In both cases their most powerful and influential work was produced decades ago. With Isozaki it was in the 1970s through the 1990s, in buildings both in Japan and overseas. Some of those buildings can be seen following the Pritzker announcement and jury citation below. 

World-Architects will have more coverage of the 2019 Pritzker Architecture Prize following today's announcement.
Projects in bold are illustrated with photos at the bottom of this post.
Partial statement from the Pritzker Architecture Prize:

Arata Isozaki, distinguished Japanese architect, city planner and theorist, has been selected as the 2019 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the award that is known internationally as architecture’s highest honor.

Lauded as a visionary amongst his international contemporaries, Isozaki’s forward-thinking approach, deep commitment to the “art of space,” and transnational methodology have been evidenced since the 1960s. The prolific architect has been credited with facilitating dialogue between East and West, reinterpreting global influences within architecture, and supporting the development of younger generations in the field. His precision and dexterity are demonstrated through his mastery of an intercontinental range of building techniques, interpretation of site and context, and intentionality of details.

Isozaki’s early successes in architecture transpired during the era following the Allied occupation of Japan, when the country sought to rebuild itself after the ruins of the Second World War. “I wanted to see the world through my own eyes, so I traveled around the globe at least ten times before I turned thirty. I wanted to feel the life of people in different places and visited extensively inside Japan, but also to the Islamic world, villages in the deep mountains of China, South East Asia, and metropolitan cities in the U.S. I was trying to find any opportunities to do so, and through this, I kept questioning, ‘what is architecture?’,” recalls the Laureate.

Not only did he extend efforts to physically reconstruct his native hometown with buildings including Ōita Medical Hall (1959-60) and Annex (1970-1972 Ōita, Japan), and the Ōita Prefectural Library (1962-1966 Ōita, Japan, renamed Ōita Art Plaza in 1996), but also redefined mutual exchange between eastern and western societies, allowing Japanese vision to inform European and American design, particularly in the 1980s.

His buildings appear geometrically simple, but are infused with theory and purpose. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1981-1986 Los Angeles, United States) was the architect’s first international commission. Though controversial and geographically challenging, the red Indian sandstone building was resolved by Isozaki’s eloquent awareness of scale through an assemblage of volumes, while employing the golden ratio and yin yang theory throughout, evoking the complementary nature of western and eastern relationships.

Isozaki’s avant-garde approach is fluid, adjusting in response to the needs and influences of each environment through a concept of interrelated time and form called “ma.” Thoughtful connectivity between global universality and local identity is made apparent through his comprehensive cross-cultural and interdisciplinary solutions that reflect deep sensitivity to specific contextual, environmental and societal needs. Ceramic Park Mino (1996-2002 Gifu, Japan), a ceramics museum situated in a cascading valley, preserves surrounding vegetation while serving as an extension of the topography through outdoor terraces, observation decks and overlooks, detailed with regional stoneware bricks and ceramic. Palau Sant Jordi (1983-1990 Barcelona, Spain), designed for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games, is positioned partially below ground to minimize the profile of the 17,000-person facility and instead highlight the surrounding Montjuïc hillside. The domed roof was built referencing Catalan vault techniques, while the sloped forms were inspired by those of Buddhist temples, and local materials including brick, tile, zinc and travertine were used as finishes.

Isozaki’s work has thus far surpassed six decades and over one hundred built works throughout Asia, Europe, North America, the Middle East and Australia . Other prominent works include the Kitakyushu City Museum of Art (1972-1974 Fukuoka, Japan), Tsukuba Center Building, (1979-1983 Ibaraki, Japan), Art Tower Mito (1986-1990 Ibaraki, Japan), Nara Centennial Hall (1992-1998 Nara, Japan), Pala Alpitour (2002-2006 Torino, Italy), Himalayas Center (2003-2013 Shanghai, China), Allianz Tower (2003-2014 Milan, Italy), Qatar National Convention Center (2004-2011 Doha, Qatar), and Shanghai Symphony Hall (2008-2014 Shanghai, China).

Isozaki is the 46th Laureate of the Pritzker Prize, and the ninth to hail from Japan. The 2019 Pritzker Prize ceremony will take place in France this May, accompanied by a public lecture in Paris.

The jury for the 2019 Pritzker Architecture Prize:

  • Stephen Breyer (Jury Chair), U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Washington, D.C., USA
  • André Corrêa do Lago, architectural critic, curator, and Brazilian Ambassador to Japan, Tokyo, Japan
  • Richard Rogers, architect and 2007 Pritzker Laureate, London, United Kingdom
  • Kazuyo Sejima, architect and 2010 Pritzker Laureate, Tokyo, Japan
  • Wang Shu, architect, educator, and 2012 Pritzker Laureate, Hangzhou, China
  • Benedetta Tagliabue, architect and director of EMBT Miralles Tagliabue, Barcelona, Spain
  • Ratan N. Tata, Chairman of Tata Trusts, Mumbai, India
  • Martha Thorne (Executive Director), Dean, IE School of Architecture & Design, Madrid, Spain

The jury citation for the 2019 Prize:

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 collage, 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.

Selected Projects by Arata Isozaki

Ōita Prefectural Library, 1962-66, Ōita, Japan (Photo courtesy of Yasuhiro Ishimoto)
The Museum of Modern Art, 1971-74, Gunma, Japan (Photo courtesy of Yasuhiro Ishimoto)
Kitakyushu Central Library, 1973-74, Fukuoka, Japan (Photo courtesy of FUJITSUKA Mitsumasa)
The Museum of Contemporary Art, 1981-86, Los Angeles California, USA (Photo courtesy of Yasuhiro Ishimoto)
Palau Sant Jordi, 1983-1990, Barcelona, Spain (Photo courtesy of Hisao Suzuki)
Nara Centennial Hall, 1992-1998, Nara, Japan (Photo courtesy of Hisao Suzuki)
Ceramic Park Mino, 1996-2002, Gifu, Japan (Photo courtesy of Hisao Suzuki)
Qatar National Convention Center, 2004-2011, Doha, Qatar (Photo courtesy of Hisao Suzuki)
LUCERNE FESTIVAL ARK NOVA by Anish Kapoor and Arata Isozaki, 2011-2013, various locations in Japan (Photo courtesy of Iwan Baan)
AllianzTower, 2003-2014, Milan, Italy (Photo courtesy of Alessandra Chemollo)

Other articles in this category