Arata Isozaki, one of Japan’s most iconic Architects, won this year’s Pritzker Prize, one of the biggest honors in the architectural world. Many may not know him, because Isozaki isn’t as mediatic or as known as some of the heavyweights of the Architecture World, but his work speaks for him and he has proven time and time again his amazing quality and creativity, in fact, all of his major projects stood the test of time.
The announcement of Isozaki as the 2019 recipient means that his name will be uttered in the same breath as past laureates in the great canon of Pritzker Prize winners, such as Rem Koolhaas, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Philip Johnson, Oscar Niemeyer, and Norman Foster.
Since opening his firm in Tokyo in 1963 at the age of 32, Isozaki has a catalogue of buildings that stand as a testament to Vitruvius’s creed. Isozaki, who has built museums, towers, bridges, libraries, furniture, corporate offices, pavilions, sports complexes, concert halls, and college buildings, among other structures, finds inspiration in not the grandness of the buildings he designs but their own void. “Extravagance is, for me, complete silence,” said Isozaki. “Nothingness, that is extravagant.”
The Qatar National Convention Centre in Doha, designed by Isozaki in partnership with RHWL Architects. Photo: Alamy Stock Photo
Isozaki has been labeled in his country as Japan’s “guerrilla architect” for his ability to add visual puns to his designs. Isozaki’s work boasts irony that verges on the edge of altruism. This is most aptly displayed in his design for the Fujimi Country Club in Oita, Japan. The architect fashioned the roof into a giant question mark that begged the question: Why are the Japanese so hell-bent on using their country’s limited land to build golf courses?
The exterior of a shopping district in Milan designed by Isozaki and Zaha Hadid. Photo: Alamy Stock Photo
The aftermath of World War II occurred during Isozaki’s formative years in Japan. It was during this time that his country was occupied by the United States, an episode that went on to define the architect’s style. “I am of the generation that grew up under the occupation of the United States,” said Isozaki. “I grew up in a traditional Japanese atmosphere until all of the sudden, Americanism arrived. That’s why [my work] is quite ambiguous.” While Isozaki has stated that he was against the United States’ occupation of Japan, it hasn’t curbed the criticism he receives from the more conservative factions within Japan who see him as a man who’s adopting Western architectural forms while neglecting his roots. Those who favour Isozaki’s vision would argue, however, that the architect is the very embodiment of Japan’s dilemma: how to be Japanese and Western at the same time
The Thessaloniki Concert Hall, designed by Arata Isozak. Photo: Getty Images
It wasn’t the first time a Japanese-born architect won the coveted award. In fact, Japan is now tied with the United States for the most Pritzker prizes (eight). This means, of course, that the architect carries on the legacy of previous winners from Japan: Shigeru Ban (2014), Toyo Ito (2013), Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, SANAA (2010), Tadao Ando (1995), Fumihiko Maki (1993), and Kenzō Tange (1987).
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