71-year-old Japanese architect Toyo Ito awarded the industry's highest honour
“Architecture is bound by various social constraints. I have been designing architecture bearing in mind that it would be possible to realise more comfortable spaces if we are freed from all of the restrictions even for a little bit. However, when one building is completed, I become painfully aware of my own inadequacy, and it turns into energy to challenge the next project. Probably this process must keep repeating itself in the future. Therefore, I will never fix my architectural style and never be satisfied with my works.”
These are the words of 71-year-old Japanese architect Toyo Ito who has just been announced as the 2013 recipient of the industry’s highest honour: the Pritzker Prize. On 29 May, Ito will be presented with a bronze medal and $100,000 grant at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston (designed by fellow Pritzker Prize winner I. M. Pei) in celebration of this esteemed award.
Over the past years, Ito has been decorated with a plethora of honours including the 22nd Praemium Imperiale in Honor of Prince Takamatsu, The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Gold Medal, and the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement for 8th Venice Biennale Exhibition.
Pinpointed by the architect as one of the high points of his career is the Sendai Mediatheque in Miyagi Prefecture, a library, theatre and art gallery centre which combines various multimedia forms in a sparkling glass case. The building withstood the 2011 earthquake, its suspended ceilings swaying wildly during the shakes as seen in this short clip taken by someone hiding beneath a table inside the building.
Chairman of the Jury Lord Palumbo stressed how crucial it is for aspiring architects and designers to learn from Ito’s heaving portfolio of bold and brave schemes, stating: “Toyo Ito, his manner, methodology, and generosity of mind and spirit to the younger generation of architects; as well as the brilliance of the constant innovation and execution of his work throughout his long and distinguished career, are qualities that those younger architects would do well to study. Toyo Ito is, quite simply, a master of his profession for all seasons.”
A modest man, Ito has repeatedly drawn attention to the continuing evolution of his style, whilst encouraging his fellow designers to use their talents for the greater good. After the devastating earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Japan in March 2011, Ito joined forces with Kumiko Inui, Akihisa Hirata and fellow Serpentine Pavilion designer Sou Fujimoto, to conceptualise a ‘Home for All’ relief centre. Headed by Ito, the project strove to provide a communal space for disaster survivors with a sense of purpose and community, not soulless units thrown up in haste.
Ito explains in Toyo It - Forces of Nature: “The relief centers offer no privacy and scarcely enough room to stretch out and sleep, while the hastily tacked up temporary housing units are little more than rows of empty shells: grim living conditions either way. Yet even under such conditions, people try to smile and make do… They gather to share and communicate in extreme circumstances - a moving vision of community at its most basic.
“Likewise, what we see here are very origins of architecture, the minimal shaping of communal spaces. An architect is someone who can make such spaces for meager meals show a little more humanity, make them a little more beautiful, a little more comfortable.”