BY George Kafka in One Takes | 19 MAR 19

‘Change Became Constant’: The Many Styles of Pritzker Prize Winner Arata Isozaki

Five iconic buildings designed by the Japanese architect since 1962

BY George Kafka in One Takes | 19 MAR 19

Earlier this month, Arata Isozaki was awarded the 46th Pritzker Prize, known as the ‘Nobel prize of architecture’, the profession’s most prestigious award. The ninth Japanese winner of the prize, Isozaki was born in 1931, in the southern city of Ōita, and came of age in a country ravaged by World War II. After graduating from the University of Tokyo in 1954, Isozaki worked under 1987 Pritzker Prize laureate, Kenzo Tange, before setting up his own practice in 1963. In the subsequent decades Arata Isozaki & Associates have worked on projects across wide ranging styles, geographies and uses. Describing his work, Isozaki claims: ‘I could not dwell upon a single style. Change became constant. Paradoxically, this came to be my own style.’

Arata Isozaki, City in the Air, 1962. Courtesy: Arata Isozaki and Associates; photograph: Osamu Murai

City in the Air (1962, Tokyo, Japan): This unrealized project for Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighbourhood of Tokyo consisted of new layers of city – housing and transportation – built atop the area’s historic fabric. Expanding in vertical and horizontal modules, the proposal is an example of Japan’s incipient metabolist movement, which was founded on the belief that built structures, like organic forms, should be able to transform to allow for growth and change.

Arata Isozaki, MOCA Grand Avenue, 1986. Courtesy: The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; photograph: Elon Schoenholz 

MOCA Grand Avenue (1986, LA, USA): Isozaki’s first project outside of Japan, and one of his most celebrated, this contemporary art museum in downtown LA is distinguished by its postmodern design, red Indian sandstone and pyramidal skylights.

Arata Isozaki, Art Tower Mito, 1990. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons 

Art Tower (1990, Mito, Japan): This helix-shaped steel tower, inaugurated to celebrate the centennial of the municipality of Mito, contains a concert hall, theatre and contemporary art gallery and exemplifies Isozaki’s tendency towards high-tech expressionism. 

Arata Isozaki, Lucerne Festival Ark Nova, 2011. Courtesy: The Pritzker Architecture Prize; photograph: Iwan Baan

Ark Nova Mobile Concert Hall (2011, Japan, with Anish Kapoor): Designed to tour the regions affected by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, this bulbous purple structure was built from a plastic membrane and hosted orchestras, theatre and dance. 

Arata Isozaki, Shanghai Symphony Hall, 2014. Courtesy: The Pritzker Archiecture Prize; photograph: Chen Hao 

Shanghai Symphony Hall (2014, Shanghai, China): The home of Asia’s oldest orchestra, the building contains two halls for 1200 and 400 people, respectively. Its interior is characterized by woven bamboo reflector boards and stage floors built from Hokkaido cypress. Outside, one of Isozaki’s more muted facades is built from terracotta bricks and a gently undulating roof.    

Main image: Arata Isozaki, Art Tower Mito, 1990. Courtesy: The Pritzker Architecture Prize; photograph: Yasuhiro Ishimoto

George Kafka is a writer and editor living in London. He writes regularly for architecture and design publications including Metropolis, The Architectural Review, Blueprint and Disegno