Japanese architect wins Pritzker Prize

Written by Bard Wilkinson, CNN

Eminent Japanese architect Arata Isozaki has won the Pritzker Prize, the “Nobel of architecture,” it was announced Tuesday.

The prize’s jury said the 87-year-old had been named 2019’s Pritzker laureate, known internationally as architecture’s highest honor, due to his original and “visionary” approach.

“Possessing a profound knowledge of architectural history and theory, and embracing the avant-garde, he never merely replicated the status quo,” read a jury statement.

“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,” it added.

The lobby of Isozaki's Allianz Tower in Milan, Italy.

The lobby of Isozaki’s Allianz Tower in Milan, Italy. Credit: Alessandra Chemollo

Isozaki’s career has spanned more than six decades and over 100 completed buildings throughout Asia, Europe, North America, the Middle East and Australia.

His major works include Ceramic Park Mino and Art Tower Mito in Japan, Pala Alpitour and Allianz Tower in Italy, the Qatar National Convention Center and Shanghai Symphony Hall.

The Nara Centennial Hall was completed in 1999 as part of the centennial celebrations of the city of Nara.

The Nara Centennial Hall was completed in 1999 as part of the centennial celebrations of the city of Nara. Credit: John S Lander/LightRocket/LightRocket via Getty Images

Among his best-known buildings is the Palau Sant Jordi sports facility in Barcelona, Spain, which was designed for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games and reflects his work’s global influences.

The 17,000-person area’s domed roof references Catalan vault-building techniques, while its sloped form was inspired by Buddhist temples. Local materials, including brick, tile, zinc and travertine, were used as finishes.

The Isozaki-designed Ceramic Park Mino, a ceramics museum in Gifu, Japan.

The Isozaki-designed Ceramic Park Mino, a ceramics museum in Gifu, Japan. Credit: Hisao Suzuki

Elsewhere, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the architect’s first international commission, drew specific praise from the Pritzker Prize’s organizers.

“Though controversial and geographically challenging, the red Indian sandstone building was resolved by Isozaki’s eloquent awareness of scale through an assemblage of volumes, while employing the golden ratio and yin yang theory throughout, evoking the complementary nature of Western and Eastern relationships,” read a prize statement.

Isozaki’s early architectural successes transpired in the era following the Allied occupation of Japan, when the country sought to rebuild itself from the ruins of World War II.

The Domus museum in La Coruna, Galicia.

The Domus museum in La Coruna, Galicia. Credit: Xurxo Lobato/Cover/Cover/Getty Images

“(My) first experience of architecture was the void of architecture,” he said, “and I began to consider how people might rebuild their homes and cities.”

Tuesday’s announcement comes as Asia consolidates its position in international architecture. While the Pritzker Prize has traditionally been seen as Western-centric, Isozaki is the seventh Asian architect to claim the award in the last 10 years.

Japan has now produced eight laureates (if counting 2010’s joint winners, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, separately), including recent winners Tadao Ando and Shigeru Ban.

Related video: Architect Tadao Ando’s remote ‘art island’

Isozaki’s achievement puts Japan on par with the United States, which — when including the Canadian-born American Frank Gehry — has also produced eight Pritzker winners.

The seven-member jury of the annual prize, which was founded in 1979, included US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, British architect (and 2007 laureate) Richard Rogers and Ratan Tata, former chairman of the Indian conglomerate Tata Group.

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