The 2013 Pritzker Architecture Prize Winner – Toyo Ito

The 2013 Pritzker Architecture Prize Winner – Toyo Ito

Toyo Ito of Japan is the 2013 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate

The recipient of the 2013 Pritzker Architecture Prize is Toyo Ito, a 71 year old architect based in Tokyo, Japan. It was announced by Thomas J. Pritzker, chairman of The Hyatt Foundation which sponsors the prize.

“Toyo Ito is a creator of timeless buildings, who at the same time boldly chart new paths.”


Toyo Ito

The criteria for eligibility for the Pritzker Architecture Prize dictates an individual must be  “…a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.”

Ito’s work has little recognisable style to it.  Unlike, the fluid lines of a Zaha Hadid building or the explosive energy of a Frank Gehry structure, a Toyo Ito design is characterised not by a personal preference for aesthetics but instead by his continiued strive for innovation.  After years of being overlooked for the most prestigious architectural award, that pioneering spirit has finally earned him the Pritzker prize.

The Pritzker jury said in its citation published this week, “His architecture projects an air of optimism, lightness and joy and is infused with both a sense of uniqueness and universality.”

Glenn Murcutt, Pritzker Juror For nearly 40 years, Toyo Ito has pursued excellence. His work has not remained static and has never been predictable. He has been an inspiration and influenced the thinking of younger generations of architects both within his land and abroad. 

Always thoughtful in his response to a brief, Ito is rare in that he carefully considers the spiritual dimension of a building in his response.  The resulting bold design comes from a surprisingly simple philosophy.

On his role, Ito says:

“An architect is someone who can make such places for meager meals show a little more humanity, make them a little more beautiful, a little more comfortable.”

Ito is the sixth Japanese architect to become a Pritzker Laureate — the first five being the late Kenzo Tange in 1987, Fumihiko Maki in 1993, Tadao Ando in 1995, and the team of Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa in 2010.


From Left: Tange 1987, Maki 1993, Ando 1995, and Sejima and Nishizawa 2010.

The formal ceremony for what has come to be known throughout the world as architecture’s highest honor will be at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts on Wednesday, May 29. This marks the first time the ceremony has been held in Boston, and the location has particular significance because it was designed by another Pritzker Laureate, Ieoh Ming Pei who received the prize in 1983.


John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts

In making the announcement, Pritzker elaborated, “We are particularly pleased to be holding our ceremony at the Kennedy Library, and it is even more significant because the date is John F. Kennedy’s birthday.”

The purpose of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, which was founded in 1979 by the late Jay A. Pritzker and his wife, Cindy, is to honor annually a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture. The laureates receive a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion.


Jay A. Pritzker and his wife, Cindy

Pritzker Prize jury chairman, The Lord Palumbo, spoke from his home in the United Kingdom, quoting from the jury citation that focuses on the reasons for this year’s choice: “Throughout his career, Toyo Ito has been able to produce a body of work that combines conceptual innovation with superbly executed buildings. Creating outstanding architecture for more than 40 years, he has successfully undertaken libraries, houses, parks, theaters, shops, office buildings and pavilions, each time seeking to extend the possibilities of architecture. A professional of unique talent, he is dedicated to the process of discovery that comes from seeing the opportunities that lie in each commission and each site.”

Toyo Ito made this comment in reaction to winning the prize:

“Architecture is bound by various social constraints. I have been designing architecture bearing in mind that it would be possible to realize more comfortable spaces if we are freed from all the restrictions even for a little bit. However, when one building is completed, I become painfully aware of my own inadequacy, and it turns into energy to challenge the next project. Probably this process must keep repeating itself in the future.”

“Therefore, I will never fix my architectural style and never be satisfied with my works,” he concluded.

Toyo Ito began working in the firm of Kiyonori Kikutake & Associates after he graduated from Tokyo University’s Department of Architecture in 1965. In 1971, he founded his own studio in Tokyo, and named it Urban Robot (Urbot). In 1979, he changed the name to Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects.

He has received numerous international awards, including in 2010, the 22nd Praemium Imperiale in Honor of Prince Takamatsu; and in 2006, The Royal Institute of British Architects’ Royal Gold Medal; and in 2002, the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement for 8th Venice Biennale International Exhibition. Calling him a “creator of timeless buildings,” the Pritzker Jury cites Ito for “infusing his designs with a spiritual dimension and for the poetics that transcend all his works.”

One of his first projects in 1971 was a home in a suburb of Tokyo. Called “Aluminum House,” the structure consisted of wooden frame completely covered in aluminum. Most of his early works were residences. In 1976, he produced a home for his sister, who had recently lost her husband. The house was called “White U” and generated a great deal of interest in Ito’s works. Of most of his work in the 1980’s, Ito explains that he was seeking to erase conventional meaning from his works through minimalist tactics, developing lightness in architecture that resembles air and wind.


Toyo Ito- Aluminum House 1971


Toyo Ito- White U 1980


Toyo Ito- White U (Interior) 1980

He calls the Sendai Mediatheque, completed in 2001 in Sendai City, Miyagi, Japan, one of the high points of his career. In the Phaidon book, Toyo Ito, he explains, “The Mediatheque differs from conventional public buildings in many ways. While the building principally functions as a library and art gallery, the administration has actively worked to relax divisions between diverse programs, removing fixed barriers between various media to progressively evoke an image of how cultural facilities should be from now on.”


Sendai Mediatheque, completed in 2001 in Sendai City, Miyagi, Japan

The jury commented on this project in their citation, saying, “Ito has said that he strives for architecture that is fluid and not confined by what he considers to be the limitations of modern architecture. In the Sendai Mediatheque he achieved this by structural tubes, which permitted new interior spatial qualities.”

Another of Ito’s projects commented on by the jury is the TOD’S Omotesando building in Tokyo, “where the building skin also serves as structure,” to quote the jury citation, and further, “Innovative is a word often used to describe Toyo Ito’s works.” Citing the Municipal Funeral Hall in Gifu Prefecture, Tokyo’s Tama Art University Library, and London’s 2002 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, the jury calls attention to some “of his many inspiring spaces.”

The Ito office provides its own description of the project:

“Trees are natural objects that stand by themselves, and their shape has an inherent structural rationality. The pattern of overlapping tree silhouettes also generates a rational flow of forces. Having adapted the branched tree diagram, the higher up the building, the thinner and more numerous the branches become, with a higher ration of openings. Similarly, the building unfolds as interior spaces with slightly different atmospheres relating to the various intended uses.”

Rejecting the obvious distinctions between walls and opening, lines and planes, two- and three dimensions, transparency and opaqueness, this building is characterized by a distinctive type of abstractness. The tree silhouette creates a new image with a constant tension generated between the building’s symbolic concreteness and its abstractness. For this project, we (Ito and his staff) intended to create a building that through its architectural newness expresses both the vivid presence of a fashion brand and strength in the cityscape that will withstand the passage of time.”


TOD’S Omotesando building in Tokyo

The distinguished jury that selected the 2013 Pritzker Laureate consists of its chairman, The Lord Palumbo, internationally known architectural patron of London, chairman of the trustees, Serpentine Gallery, former chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, former chairman of the Tate Gallery Foundation, and former trustee of the Mies van der Rohe Archive at The Museum of Modern Art, New York; and alphabetically: Alejandro Aravena, architect and executive director of Elemental in Santiago, Chile; Stephen Breyer, U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Washington, D.C.; Yung Ho Chang, architect and educator, Beijing, The People’s Republic of China; Glenn Murcutt, architect and 2002 Pritzker Laureate of Sydney, Australia; and Juhani Pallasmaa, architect, professor and author of Helsinki, Finland. Martha Thorne, associate dean for external relations, IE School of Architecture & Design, Madrid, Spain, is the executive director of the prize.

In addition to the previous laureates already mentioned, the first Pritzker Laureate in 1979 was the late Philip Johnson .


The late Luis Barragán of Mexico was named in 1980.

The late James Stirling was elected in 1981, Kevin Roche in 1982, Ieoh Ming Pei in 1983, Richard Meier in 1984, Hans Hollein in 1985, Gottfried Böhm in 1986, Gordon Bunshaft in 1988, Frank Gehry in 1989, Aldo Rossi in 1990.  Robert Venturi received the honor in 1991, Alvaro Siza in 1992, Christian de Portzamparc in 1994, Rafael Moneo in 1996, Sverre Fehn in 1997, Renzo Piano in 1998, Sir Norman Foster in 1999, and in 2000, Rem Koolhaas.  Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron in 2001, Glenn Murcutt in 2002. The late Jørn Utzon of Denmark was honored in 2003; Zaha Hadid of the UK in 2004 was the first women honored and Thom Mayne in 2005.  Paulo Mendes da Rocha in 2006, Richard Rogers in 2007,  Jean Nouvel in 2008.  Peter Zumthor in 2009, Eduardo Souto de Moura in 2011 and last year, Wang Shu of The People’s Republic of China became the laureate.

The field of architecture was chosen by the Pritzker family because of their keen interest in building due to their involvement with developing the Hyatt Hotels around the world, and because architecture was a creative endeavor not included in the Nobel Prizes. The procedures were modeled after the Nobels, with the final selection being made by the international jury with all deliberations and voting in secret. Nominations are continuous from year to year with hundreds of nominees from countries all around the world being considered each year.


Toyo Ito was born on June 1, 1941 in Keijo, Korea.

His father was a business man with a special interest in the early ceramic ware of the Yi Dynasty of Korea and Japanese style paintings.

He also was a sports fan of baseball and golf. In 1943, Ito, his mother, and his two elder sisters moved back to Japan.

Two years later, his father returned to Japan as well, and they all lived in his father’s hometown of Shimosuwa-machi in Nagano Prefecture.

His father died in 1953, when he was 12.

After that the rest of family operated a miso (bean paste) making factory.

At present, all but one sister who is three years older than Ito, have died.


Toyo Ito

Ito established his own architecture office in 1971, and the following year he married. His wife died in 2010.

They had one daughter who is now 40 and is editing Vogue Nippon.

In his youth, Ito admits to not having a great interest in architecture.

There were several early influences however. His grandfather was a lumber dealer, and his father liked to draw plans for his friends’ houses.

When Ito was a freshman in high school, his mother asked the early Modernist architect, Yoshinobu Ashihara, who had just returned to Japan from the U.S. where he worked at Marcel Breuer’s office, to design their home in Tokyo. He was in the third grade of junior high school when he moved to Tokyo and went to Hibiya High School.

At the time, he never dreamed he would become an architect—his passion was baseball. It was while attending the University of Tokyo that architecture became his main interest. For his undergraduate diploma design, he submitted a proposal for the reconstruction of Ueno Park, which won the top prize of the University of Tokyo.


Toyo Ito

Toyo Ito began working in the firm of Kiyonori Kikutake & Associates after he graduated from Tokyo University’s Department of Architecture in 1965.

By 1971, he was ready to start his own studio in Tokyo, and named it Urban Robot (Urbot).

In 1979, he changed the name to Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects.In delivering the Kenneth Kassler lecture at Princeton University in 2009, Ito explained his general thoughts on architecture:

“The natural world is extremely complicated and variable, and its systems are fluid – it is built on a fluid world. In contrast to this, architecture has always tried to establish a more stable system. To be very simplistic, one could say that the system of the grid was established in the twentieth century. This system became popular throughout the world, as it allowed a huge amount of architecture to be built in a short period of time.”

However, it also made the world’s cities homogenous. One might even say that it made the people living and working there homogenous too. In response to that, over the last ten years, by modifying the grid slightly I have been attempting to find a way of creating relationships that bring buildings closer to their surroundings and environment.” Ito amends that last thought to “their natural environment.”

After designing critically-acclaimed buildings like Sendai Mediatheque, Ito became an architect of international importance during the early-2000s leading to projects throughout Asia, Europe, North America and South America. Ito designed the Main Stadium for the 2009 World Games in Kaohsiung and the under-construction Taichung Metropolitan Opera House, both in Taiwan.


Main Stadium for the 2009 World Games in Kaohsiung designed by Toyo Ito

In Europe, Ito and his firm renovated the façade of the Suites Avenue Apartments with striking stainless steel waves and, in 2002, designed the celebrated temporary Serpentine Pavilion Gallery in London’s Hyde Park.


Suites Avenue Apartments designed by Toyo Ito

Other projects during this time include the White O residence in Marbella, Chile and the never-built University of California, Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive in California.


White O residence in Marbella, Chile


Yatsushiro Municipal Museum, 1991


Yatsushiro Municipal Museum, 1991

The city of Yatsushiro is known in Japan as a home for exemplary architecture – the legacy at least in part of Artpolis, a plan by the government of the Kumamoto Prefecture to seek out a range of talented architects to design cultural buildings in the cities of the region. Though the Artpolis scheme has been running for the past 22 years, perhaps its most successful building was completed back in 1991, with the construction of Toyo Ito’s Yatsushiro Municipal Museum.


Yatsushiro Municipal Museum, 1991

The selection of Toyo Ito for this particular project was seen as particularly risky, considering his commitment to contemporary and often technological design, as the site is directly opposite the historic Shohinken Villa and near to the ruins of Yatsushiro Castle. However, Ito did not shy away from his progressive convictions, designing a sleek glass pavilion with a complex, billowing steel canopy.


Interior of the Yatsushiro Municipal Museum, 1991

Though the museum contains two floors, the earth around the building was raised into a mound to give the appearance of a single story structure sat atop a small hill. Above the undulating roof is a horizontal half-cylinder, which provides storage for museum pieces. The logic for this move was that the high water-table on the site would make the common practice of placing storage in a basement too much of a risk.Fellow Japanese architect Kengo Kuma praised the museum, saying that it was “not only a critique of the ‘heavy and strong’ Western model of architecture, but also of these simplistic ‘traditional Japanese’ buildings, which are far removed from the true spirit of Japanese tradition.”

Odate Dome, 1997

The Odate Dome in the Akita Prefecture of Japan was completed by Toyo Ito in June 1997. The project is another example of the architect’s impressive canon, making use of cutting edge technology and bringing architecture closer to people. Seemingly floating a few meters above the ground, the dome leaves space for the people to flow in comfortably, while the use of wood is itself a way of bringing nature into architecture while adopting the latest technological advancements.


The rural setting of the Dome

The dome boasts a lavish height of 52 meters running 178 meters along the major axis and 157 meters along the minor axis. It is built of a combination of steel and wood, its ground floor left uncovered to reveal the columns that carry the dome and create a sense of transparency between the interior and the surrounding. Even the glass facade on the ground floor is pushed inside so that the dome appears to hover above the space it shelters.


The interior of the dome

Aita Japanese cedar wood was used, which is grown in the region and was transported in modern efficient methods. The 25,000 laminated wood planks are glued together and harvested and processed in an efficient manner for the construction of the dome. The focus of the interior is on the space created by this sheltering dome, in which the wood plays a crucial role, the comfort and warmth it brings along beautifully embracing by the space.


Sumo wrestling inside the Dome

Clearly, the dome is interpreted by Toyo Ito not as a structure to merely host an event, but rather as a space tailored to welcome large amounts of people and assure them comfort and pleasure. The building hosts sports games including baseball and soccer, but also various events and performances. It receives a reasonable amount of natural light, ventilates in summer and averts monsoon winds in winter, and most importantly speaks to its surrounding through a transparent ground floor level that subtly but reassuringly carries the structure above it.

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, 2002

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2002

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion

Toyo Ito, recipient of the Pritzker Prize 2013, along with Cecil Balmond and Arup were in charge of the design of the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion back in 2002. What appeared to be an extremely complex random pattern was in fact derived from an algorithm of  gba cube that expanded as it rotated. The intersecting lines formed different triangles and trapezoids, whose transparency and translucency gave a sense of infinitely repeated motion.


Serpentine Gallery Pavilion

The Tower Of Winds, 2002 

The Tower of Winds is a project largely indicative of Toyo Ito’s approach to architecture, particularly his belief in the importance of technology and its vital role in the future of architecture. The project not only embraces technology and involves it in a dialogue with the city, but also establishes a direct symbolic relationship between nature and the installation.


The Tower Of Winds, 2002 at night

By day the tower, clad in perforated aluminum panels, reflects the city through the reflective surfaces covering the steel core. The project is rather humble, literally reflecting the city through the complexity of its material. Come night time, the Tower of Winds takes a more pro-active role, translating sound and wind into light through two computers sensing the varying wind and noise levels and accordingly powering 1300 lamps, 12 neon rings, and 30 flood lights at its base.

The tower is constantly transforming, its small lamps changing colors according the surrounding sounds and its neon rings rippling according to the winds of the city. As a result there is no pattern since the display of light is a direct representation of the environment, portrayed on a 21 meter high cylindrical surface.

The project sits as a technological sculpture, welcoming travelers arriving at the rail way station of Yokohama, and oddly enough housing water tanks serving air conditioning machinery for an underground mall that it sits atop. Toyo Ito creates an infinite relationship between technology, architecture, the city, and its inhabitants emphasizing the profound impact of the city on the human race and the crucial role of technology in architecture.

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Tower of Wind showing some of the different stages of lighting effects

Toyo Ito was awarded the 1987 Edwin Guth Memorial Award of Excellence from America’s Illumination Engineering Society for this project, which is credited for its tribute to cosmopolitanism. Ito was awarded the project upon winning a competition in which his success is attributed to the ability to convert a purely technical structure into an iconic landmark for the city.

Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre, 2004


Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre, located in a dense suburban neighbourhood

Nestling in a densely inhabited neighbourhood of the city of Matsumoto, the Japanese architect’s newly inaugurated Performing Arts Centre boldly rearranges traditional circulation patterns to meet the restrictions of an exceptionally narrow site. The result is a sinuous, embryonic form that delicately interacts with its surroundings.


A hand sketch by Toyo Ito of the entrance of the Performing arts centre

Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre stands on the site of the old Civic Culture Hall in the heart of the city, some fifteen minutes from Matsumoto Station. The main façade overlooks a residential area; the adjacent Shinto shrine adds a note of greenery to the site. Ito’s competition proposal responded to the stringent environmental conditions almost magically through the spatial composition on plan.

By situating the fly-tower in the middle of the building and reversing the stage and the audience seating, deliveries can be handled more efficiently while significantly reducing the volume of truck noise for the surrounding community.

Likewise, the curvature of the building’s exterior wall is skirted by the seating of the Grand Hall with its horseshoe-shaped balconies and enclosing ring of dressing rooms. That said, the basic skeleton of the plan consists in its entry-stair-foyer flow, a baroque spatial scheme that serves to heighten the “drama of entrance” in adrenaline-coursing curves. The Ito proposal has the audience enter to the left and proceed around the back of the space.


Interior of Main Hall

Better to picture the plan as an embryo in the womb. (Such a shape is even used in the Centre’s logo3. In Japan, opera house spaces – our National Theatres included – are also required to function virtually simultaneously as music halls and small theatres.

The Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre has a traditional European-scale opera hall space with four tiers of balconies, though a unique lowering feature in the ceiling helps “contract” the space so as to accommodate smaller productions both in terms of acoustics and audience capacity. Moreover, the “four-square stage” plan allows the back of the stage to be transformed into an Experimental Theatre, complete with folding banked seating. It is doubtful that those entering from the so-called “Theatre Park” lobby will even realise that they are backstage at the opera.

Matsumoto-Performing-Arts-Centre, Japan, Hiroshi Ueda_530x382

main entrance to Threatre

The embryo-shaped space that connects and envelops both theatres is also a flat slab-built “tabula rasa” raised on slender round columns. In marked contrast to such intense spaces are the Grand and Small Halls with their perfect acoustics, consummate lighting and air conditioning, this space completely lacks architectural metaphors or programmes.

It is designed to let viewers, actors, performers and directors alike float in an undefined environment – although it conceals the possibility of some creative production suddenly turning the place into a theatre space for a single night. Ito has said, “I want to create flat spaces free of hierarchies.”

Municipal Funeral Hall, 2006


Municipal Funeral Hall

“The roof of the “Meiso no mori” (forest of meditation) crematorium seems to float above the ground with a quality of lightness not necessarily associated with reinforced concrete. Built in the park-like cemetery at Kakamigahara, a town of 150,000 inhabitants in the prefecture of Gifu, the building nestles between wooded hills on the south and a small artificial lake on the north side. As the old crematorium on this site was to be demolished, Toyo Ito was free to realise his idea of a funeral hall not constrained by religious content. Ito wanted to create a place for quiet reflection, a space whose organic language of forms would suggest a closeness to nature. The 20 cm thin roof, made up of concave and convex forms, flows into twelve tapered columns; its weight is also borne on the two-storey core.”



Views from the mediation rooms in Municipal Funeral Hall

Tama Art University Library, 2007

This is a library for an art university located in the suburbs of Tokyo. Passing through the main entrance gate, the site lies behind a front garden with small and large trees, and stretches up a gentle slope.

The existing cafeteria was the sole place in the university shared by both students and staff members across all disciplines, so the first impetus for the design was to question how an institution as specialised as a library could provide an open commonality for all.


Tama Art University Library

The first idea was for a wide open gallery on the ground level that would serve as an active thoroughfare for people crossing the campus, even without intending to go to the library.To let the flows and views of these people freely penetrate the building, the structure of randomly placed arches would create the sensation as if the sloping floor and the front garden’s scenery were continuing within the building.

The characteristic arches are made out of steel plates covered with concrete. In plan these arches are arranged along curved lines which cross at several points. The arches are extremely slender at the bottom and still support the heavy live loads of the floor above. The spans of the arches vary from 1.8 to 16 metres, but the width is kept uniformly at 200mm.


Interior of Tama Art University Library

The intersections of the rows of arches help to articulate softly separated zones within this one space. Shelves and study desks of various shapes, glass partitions that function as bulletin boards, etc., give these zones a sense of both individual character and visual as well as spatial continuity.

On the sloped ground level, a movie-browser like a bar counter and a large glass table for the latest issues of magazines invite students to spend their time waiting for the bus in the library.

Climbing the stairs to the second floor, one finds large art books on low bookshelves crossing under the arches. Between these shelves are study desks of various sizes. A large table with a state-of-art copy machine allows users to do professional editing work.


Tama Art University Library

The spatial diversity one experiences when walking through the arches different in span and height changes seamlessly from a cloister-like space filled with natural light, to the impression of a tunnel that cannot be penetrated visually.

The new library is a place where everyone can discover their style of “interacting” with books and film media as if they were walking through a forest or in a cave; a new place of arcade-like spaces where soft mutual relations form by simply passing through; a focal centre where a new sense of creativity begins to spread throughout the art university’s campus.


Tama Art University Library

Architecture Museum 2011


Architecture Museum

The recently-opened Toyo Ito Architecture Museum on Omishima, a small island that dots Japan’s Seto Inland Sea, is comprised of two structures: the Steel Hut, a trapezoidal configuration of black steel that rises from a hillcrest overlooking the ocean, and the nearby Silver Hut, a humble vaulted pavilion that recalls the elegance of the lightwight and prefabricated structures of Japan and Europe’s post-war period. The formal language of the Steel Hut, which has its roots in the geometric cosmology of Buckminster Fuller’s space frames and dymaxion maps, Louis Kahn’s City Tower proposal, Moshe Safdie’s post-collegiate megastructural projects, not to mention Ito’s own early work, rebukes the flowing abstract fields that characterize the current Japanese architectural scene.


The Steel Hut in the foreground with the Architecture Museum in the background

That isn’t to say that Ito’s museum is out of place in Japan’s architectural culture–it’s decidely Japanese, with its polyhedral massing channeling the country’s technofuturist eccentricities, its illustrious Metabolist past, and even, its former shipbuilding dominance. Ito himself described the museum as a “sea-worthy vessel.  Like a ship embarking from the port city of Imabari with a cargo of dreams of architecture for the future, the museum is setting sail on a new voyage into the unknown.”


The trapezoidal composition of the structure

The museum is a poignant affirmation of Ito’s celebrated career. His most famous buildings, including the perforated Mikimoto Ginza tower and the fluid-like Taichung Opera House, now under construction, are all present–represented in miniature and in other forms–collected together in the architectural equivalent of a warm embrace.


The Interior of the Museum of Architecture

Venice Biennale 2012: Architecture. Possible here? Home-for-all / Japan Pavilion

The Japan Pavilion for the Venice Biennale (designed by Takamasa Yoshizaka in 1956) presented the exhibit “Architecture. Possible here? Home-for-all”, curated by Toyo Ito, with the participation of architectural photographer Naoya Hatakeyama, and architects Kumiko Inui, Sou Fujimoto and Akihisa Hirata.


Venice Biennale 2012: Architecture. “Home-for-all”

The exhibition, which was awarded with the Gold Lion at the Biennale, takes us through the process where these three emerging architects collaborated with Toyo Ito to design the “Home-for-all”, a project for the inhabitants of Rikuzentakata who lost their homes during the tsunami in 2011.

In the walls we find Hatakeyama’s photos from before and after the tsunami, along with a visual registry of the architects visiting the location. Around the pavilion, several study models reveal the process to design this unique type of house.


Venice Biennale 2012: Architecture. “Home-for-all”

The jury stated at the award ceremony that ”the presentation and the storytelling in the Pavilion are exceptional and highly accessible to a broad audience. The jury was impressed with the humanity of this project.”

Immediately post-quake Ito proposed a project known as Home-for-All: an attempt to provide places where those who’ve lost their homes in the tsunami can enjoy a little breathing space – a place to meet, talk, eat and drink together.

Those living in the temporary housing erected in the disaster zone may at least have secured a minimum of privacy, but having lost their former communities, are compelled to live an isolated existence. Dwellings are small and thus unsociable.


Venice Biennale 2012: Architecture. “Home-for-all”

Even just to talk to the next-door neighbors requires standing outside on a bare gravel road. It struck me that we could supply small wooden buildings, places for people to gather, in a corner of these temporary housing sites, and I launched a campaign to do so. Soliciting funds from companies and organizations around the world, the idea is also to have manufacturers supply the materials free of charge.

One characteristic of Home-for-All is the way in which those “making” the facilities and those “living” in them join together to discuss the project during the design and building process. Listening to the wishes of people living in temporary housing, sympathetic students and designers, tradesmen involved in the construction work, and residents cooperate to make them reality. Admittedly small in scale, the greatest significance of the Home-for-All project lies in its realization through this meeting of minds and hearts.

As Ito says in Toyo Ito – Forces of Nature published by Princeton Architectural Press:

“The relief centers offer no privacy and scarcely enough room to stretch out and sleep, while the hastily tacked up temporary housing units are little more than rows of empty shells: grim living conditions either way. Yet even under such conditions, people try to smile and make do…. They gather to share and communicate in extreme circumstances – a moving vision of community at its most basic. Likewise, what we see here are very origins of architecture, the minimal shaping of communal spaces.”


Recently, Ito has also thought of his legacy, as apparent by the museum of architecture that bears his name on the small island of Omishima in the Seto Inland Sea. Also designed by Ito, the museum opened in 2011 and showcases his past projects as well as serving as a workshop for young architects. Two buildings comprise the complex, the main building “Steel Hut” and the nearby “Silver Hut,” which is a recreation of the architect’s former home in Tokyo, built in 1984.


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