Pritzker Prize-Winning Architect


Toyo Ito: Using Architecture to Change the World

Grace Piney


The famous Japanese architect creates profoundly beautiful buildings that look to the future. A Pritzker Prize laureate, Ito aims to rid his designs of all social restrictions, creating masterful edifices such as the Sendai Mediatheque, Tokyo's Mikimoto Ginza, and London's Serpentine Gallery.


Perfectionism is the trait that best describes the work of Japanese architect Toyo Ito (Seoul, 1941), winner of the 2013 Pritzker Prize of Architecture. The strength and poetics of his creations emerge from the flawless attention to detail. Back in 2013, when he received the Pritzker Prize, Ito told the press “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”.

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Toyo Ito.

At the same time, he admitted his frustration when he didn’t achieve his objectives with every completed project, indicating that Toyo Ito has not yet arrived: he is still on his way, which is difficult to believe after such a masterful career. Ito wants to let us know he still has something to show us, something that will surpass everything we know of his extended oeuvre. He keeps our expectations high for something he still has to tell us. The catalog of a career that spans more than 40 years includes houses and public buildings such as libraries, theaters, offices, shops, and parks.

His first known work is the Aluminum House, a wood and aluminum structure similar to other buildings from his early years, but the project that launched him to stardom was White U, a building he created for his sister, in which he tried to “destroy predictability.”

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“Predictability” is a term that applies to information technology. It has variables and algorithms that allow, for example, that when a few signs are entered into a phone, the gadget automatically inserts the missing signs according to a number of variables.

The White U house was designed with the purpose of balancing spirituality into the everyday life and needs of the family. The U-shaped construction projected itself concentrically, by way of introspection. His interest in experimentation resulted in a hideous mess. The house was demolished 23 years later since the original function for which it was built ceased to make sense. At the time the family was already living elsewhere.

Since 2000, we have seen a number of works that point to Ito as a truly innovative architect with a splendid vocabulary of forms. These include the Sendai Mediatheque, the Matsumoto Auditorium, Tokyo’s TOD’S and Mikimoto Ginza buildings, the Serpentine Gallery in London, the Funeral Chapel of Gifu, Japan, the White O house in Chile, the solar Stadium and the Taichung Opera in Taiwan, the Toyo Ito Museum of Architecture in Imabari-shi, Japan. In Spain, his three best-known projects are Gavia Park in Madrid, the Porta Fira Hotel in Barcelona, winner of the Emporis Gold Skyscraper award in 2010, and Torre Realia BCN, also in Barcelona.

Looking at Toyo Ito´s buildings, one can sense a young and dynamic spirit, mindful—as he says in the title of one of his books—that algorithms are more than an opportunity to create architecture that resonates. His works have a profound beauty that connects us to the universe and encourages us to look to the future.  ■


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