Japanese architect Arata Isozaki has been named 2019 laureate of the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s most prestigious award.
Isozaki is regarded as Japan’s most influential postwar architect. He is the 46th recipient of the Pritzker Prize, and the eighth Japanese architect to receive the honour.
The Pritzker jury describes him as “a versatile, influential, and truly international architect”.
“Possessing a profound knowledge of architectural history and theory, and embracing the avant-garde, he never merely replicated the status quo but challenged it,” reads the jury citation.
A highly decorated architect, city planner and theorist, Isozaki won the RIBA Gold Medal for architecture in 1986 and was awarded the Leone d’Oro at the Venice Architectural Biennale 1996.
His career spans more than six decades and his portfolio features over a hundred buildings spread over Asia, Europe, North America, the Middle East and Australia. His first international experience, however, was one of war and destruction on the scale of entire cities.
Born in 1931 in Ōita on Kyushu, Japan’s third largest island, Isozaki was just 14 years old when nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
“When I was old enough to begin an understanding of the world, my hometown was burned down,” said Isozaki.
“Across the shore, the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, so I grew up near ground zero. It was in complete ruins, and there was no architecture, no buildings and not even a city. Only barracks and shelters surrounded me.
“So, my first experience of architecture was the void of architecture, and I began to consider how people might rebuild their homes and cities.”
Japan’s recovery from war defined the beginnings of Isozaki’s architecture career. He graduated in 1954 from the University of Tokyo and studied under Kenzo Tange, the 1987 Pritzker Prize laureate.
His 1962 conceptual project, City in the Air (Joint Core System), imagined a new layout for Tokyo where rapid urban expansion would be facilitated by multi-layered buildings over the city’s existing layout and waterways.
In 1963 he founded Arata Isozaki & Associates, as the Allied occupation ended and the rebuilding process began in earnest.
Notable early works include the Ōita Prefectural Library (1966), Expo ’70 Festival Plaza in Osaka (1970), Museum of Modern Art, Gunma, and Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art in Fukuoka (both 1974). Several of his works from this era are considered definitive examples of Japanese brutalism.
“In order to find the most appropriate way to solve these problems, I could not dwell upon a single style. Change became constant,” Isozaki explained. “Paradoxically, this came to be my own style.”
In the 1980s, Isozaki took his mutable architecture style to an international audience with his first major overseas commission, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (1986).
Other notable Arata Isozaki & Associates projects include the Team Disney Building (1990) in Florida, the Shenzhen Cultural Centre (2007), Central Academy of Fine Arts, Art Museum in Beijing (2008), Milan’s Allianz Tower (2014), Doha’s Qatar National Convention Centre (2011), the Shanghai Symphony Hall (2014) and Hunan Provincial Museum in Changsha (2017).
Isozaki’s avant-garde style is well known for being tailored to the context of its site.
His Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona, built for the 1992 Summer Olympic, was designed to sit low to the ground against the Montjuïc hillside and finished in local materials such as zinc, tile and travertine. Its domed roof used Catalan vault techniques to form a sloping profile reminiscent of Buddhist temples.
“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,” said Stephen Breyer, Pritzker Prize jury chair.
“For many years, he has been trying to make certain that areas of the world that have long traditions in architecture are not limited to that tradition, but help spread those traditions while simultaneously learning from the rest of the world.”
Set up in 1979, the Pritzker Prize is modelled on the Nobel Prize, annually honouring the work of a living architect.
Indian architect Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi was named the 2018 laureate, and previous recipients include Alejandro Aravena, Frei Otto, Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA and Toyo Ito.
This article was originally published in dezeen