Arata Isozaki may not be a household name in the vein of architects like Zaha Hadid — with whom he previously collaborated — but people around the world are starting to look at his work with fresh eyes and discovering a visionary with just as fascinating a personal story. This month, the 87-year-old Japanese architect, city planner, and theorist became the 46th individual to receive architecture’s most prestigious honor: the Pritzker Prize.
Born in Oita, Japan in 1931, Isozaki was a teenager when the United States decimated Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs, killing and maiming hundreds of thousands of Japanese citizens. These events had a profound effect upon Isozaki’s view of built environments and his interest in building new cities from the ground up.
“When I was old enough to begin an understanding of the world, my hometown was burned down,” Isozaki notes in his Pritzker Prize biography. “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.”
After graduating from the University of Tokyo, Isozaki worked for the 1987 Pritzer Prize laureate Kenzo Tange, eventually opening his own practice in 1963. As Japan entered a new era of rapid reinvention, he experimented with different styles and approaches, developing the extreme flexibility that would come to define his career. His early work, including civic buildings in his hometown like the Oita Medical Hall and Oita Prefectural Library, is decidedly futuristic and avant garde. Isozaki soon became one of the first Japanese architects to work outside of Japan during a time when Western culture began heavily influencing the East.
His first overseas commission was the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, California, completed in 1986. From there, he would go on to helm more than one hundred total built projects around the world, including the Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona, the Shenzhen Cultural Center in China, the Central Academy of Fine Arts Art Museum in Beijing, and the Qatar National Convention Center. Despite the fluidity of his style, there are a few connecting threads between all of his projects, including a sense of solidity and the use of simple geometric forms.
“What is patently clear is that he has not been following trends but forging his own path,” write the Pritzker Prize jurors of Isozaki’s repertoire.
“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.”