Japanese Architect is Winner Of 2019 Pritzker Architecture Prize
The Pritzker Architecture Prize is an international prize bestowed upon a living architect whose built contributions manifest exceptional talent, humanitarian vision, and notable quality. Considered as one of the field’s most prestigious recognition, it is also commonly dubbed and referred to as the “Nobel Prize” for Architecture. The Pritzker Prize is sponsored by the Hyatt Foundation.
The humble roots of the Pritzker Architecture Prize can be traced back to Jay and Cindy Pritzker – the family behind American multigiant Hyatt Hotels Corporation. Born and raised in Chicago, the city’s high-rise architecture inspired Jay Pritzker to both appreciate and evaluate the infrastructures found in the world’s hub of tall buildings. “While the architecture of Chicago made us cognizant of the art of architecture, our work with designing and building hotels made us aware of the impact architecture could have on human behavior,” the late Jay quoted by the Pritzker Prize website.
The methodology and process of selecting the Prize’s awardee are mostly, loosely based from the system for the Nobel Prize. The annually chosen laureate receives a $100,000 grant, together with a bronze medallion and a formal certificate.
For 2019, the esteemed jury has decided. This year’s laureate is now officially Arata Isozaki – a renowned Japanese architect from the Ōita Prefecture in Japan.
WHO IS ARATA ISOZAKI?
Born in 1931, Isozaki is one of the prominent Japanese architects of the avant-garde in the late 20th Century. Having graduated his studies of architecture in the reputable University of Tokyo, Isozaki took apprenticeship under the care of Kenzo Tange. Tange was the first Japanese recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1987. Isozaki is presently the eighth.
In the formal citation, the jury described Isozaki as an architect who possess a “profound knowledge of architectural history and theory”. As a personality of the avant-garde movement, he was also regarded as an architect who “never merely replicated the status quo, but his search for meaningful architecture was reflected in his buildings that to this day, defy stylistic categorizations, are constantly evolving, and always fresh in their approach.”
“Isozaki is a pioneer in understanding that the need for architecture is both global and local – that those two forces are part of a single challenge,” explained by US Supreme Court Justice Breyer, the assigned jury chair. On the other hand, current chairman of the Hyatt Foundation Tom Pritzker has also commented that the architect’s works are international.
The international aspect of Isozaki’s architecture draws heavily from his background. Being born during the era of the Second World War, the laureate grew up in the period of post-occupation Japan. World War II historically devastated the country in burgeoning numbers. Wartime left the nation with all kinds of losses – both material and human.
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THE SECOND WORLD WAR AS INFLUENCE
“Throughout my youth, until I began to study architecture, I was constantly confronted with the destruction and elimination of the physical objects that surrounded me. Japanese cities went up in flames. Forms that had been there an instant earlier vanished in the next.” This is a personal truth that the Japanese architect shared at the first few pages of Richard Koshalek’s and David Stewart’s Four Decades of Architecture (1960).
Isozaki, a teenager at this time, lived through the desolation. His experiences include growing up with the generation which bore witness to the sorrowful tragedy of the Nagaski and Hiroshima atomic bombing – otherwise known as ground zero.
“I grew up on ground zero; it was in complete ruins and there was no architecture, no buildings and not even a city”, remarked Isozaki in his interview with the Associated Press. He described how Hiroshima, the old shopping district, became a place of rubble and nothingness after the nuclear detonation. “Only barracks and shelters surrounded me. So my first experience of architecture was the void of architecture,” he added.
This absence of architecture pushed Isozaki to develop his own style. “The only possible choice I had was to start from the ruins – the degree zero where nothing remained,” he shared with The New York Times. Despite further adversities, he was heavily influenced by his country’s resilience to recover and rehabilitate. Forward-looking and deeply hopeful for what lies ahead, the architect’s trademark became a stable flux – ever-changing and ever-adapting. “Change became constant. Paradoxically, this came to be my own style,” Isozaki affirmed.
It is worth noting that the architect’s acceptance of change can also be seen to relate to his individual self, as described by his first name: Arata. Expressing it in English, the Japanese name “arata” translates to mean “fresh”, “novel”, or “new”. Isozaki, in almost six decades in his career, reinvented himself and his architecture many times. With no specific signature style, Isozaki has made a name around the globe, with built works in both the East and West hemispheres.
ISOZAKI’S ARCHITECTURE: LOOKING THEN AND NOW
The architect’s rendition of what change looks like is depicted in all of his designs. The earliest ones, however, include his ever-famous proposal, City in the Air (1962), the Oita Prefectural Library (1966), the Museum of Modern Art in Gunma (1974), and the Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art in Fukuoka (1974). Isozaki’s first creations set the hallmarks for comparison – not with regards to which structure is better, but in terms of watching how fluid and dynamic Isozaki’s style can be.
City in the Air (1962)
Highly-urbanized and considered futuristic since the time of its proposal, Isozaki’s City in the Air remains to be a design that is independent of time and space. Prospected to be built and constructed in the Shinjuku neighborhood in Tokyo, the project represents Isozaki’s vision of the future of the cities.
The prototype of City in the Air involved suspended capsules which are horizontally attached to vertically founded cylinders. These futuristic capsules are capable of reorganization, depending on the urbanscape’s development, growth, and needed changes. The City in the Air is the representation of the city metamorphosis. As expressed in Incubation Process, Arata Isozaki explained: “Future cities are themselves ruins. Our contemporary cities are destined to live only a fleeting moment.”
Oita Prefectural Library (1966)
Reintroduced as an art gallery by the local government in 1996, the present Oita Art Plaza was intended by Isozaki as a library. In a feature with the Japan Times, the Oita Prefectural Library is an original concept that the architect consider as a structural highlight of his works.
Designed with exposed, reinforced concrete, the library is Isozaki’s first public commission that kick started his career. The structure’s tube-like beams emanate Arata’s penchant for openness. Coincidentally, the reintroduction of this work as an art plaza acts as a metaphor of his reception and acceptance to cultural and societal change.
Qatar National Convention Center (2011)
Officially opened to operations on December 2011, the Qatar National Convention Center, or the QNCC, in Doha is one of the most exquisite exhibition centers in the world. Built in accordance to the gold certification of the standardized U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED), the QNCC is an innovative building highlighting sustainability. Equipped with water-saving and energy-efficient features and fixtures, the conference hall of the QNCC can cater 4,000 seats in a theater set-up. There are also 9 halls under its roof, having a combined seating capacity of 10,000. The center is 250 meters wide and five stories high.
Isozaki’s design of the QNCC is inspired by and is reminiscent of the Sidra Tree, a heritage symbol in the culture of Qatar. It is said that the tree is a representation of strength, growth, and resilience, thereby making it an icon across Arab nations.
Allianz Tower, Milan (2018)
One of Isozaki’s most recent works, the Allianz Tower in Milan is a mixed-use skyscraper in collaboration with Andrea Maffei Architects. The high-rise is set to be the second tallest building in Italy at 209 meters, next to the Cesar Pelli creation, Torre Unicredit (231 meters). Beautifully erected with triple glass units on its facade, the slim and slender tower has been nicknamed “Il Dritto”, translating to mean “the straight”. The concept behind the Allianz Tower is an aspiration to reach the sky, as supported by the four buttresses installed to prevent wind-caused horizontal movements on higher floors.
Isozaki is set to formally receive the Prize in May 2019. The ceremony, annually held at a renowned architectural location, will be staged at the Château de Versailles, a historic UNESCO World Heritage Site. This will be followed with Isozaki’s public lecture and speech in Paris. However, aside from the 2019 Pritzker Architecture Prize, the architect has also received numerous awards and recognition, which include the Architectural’s Institute of Japan’s Annual Prize (1974), the RIBA Gold Medal (1986), and the American Institute of Architect’s Honor Award (1992).
The postmodern architect remains to be one of the most influential figures among the contemporaries of the field and the industry. Perceptive and visionary, the core of his works rests not only on his knowledge of architecture, but also with his background on societal history, culture, principle, and philosophy. Amidst all his certifications and accolades, Isozaki has something to say.
“I don’t want to be a Japanese architect,” he shared with the LA Times. “But an architect from Japan.”
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