Arquitectura Viva
Saturday, July 04, 2020

Arata Isozaki, Pritzker Prize 2019

The president of The Hyatt Foundation has announced the awarding of the 2019 Pritzker Prize to Arata Isozaki. Born in Oita in 1931, Isozaki is a leading figure in Japanese architecture, a bridge between the modernity imported from Europe and the eclectic modernity that he has represented internationally like few have.

He studied at the University of Tokyo, where he met Kenzo Tange, the first major champion of the Modern Movement in Japan, who was central to Isozaki's development as an architect and in whose studio he worked until 1963, when he set up his own practice. Conceived amid Tange’s efforts to fuse the Western language – in particular Le Corbusier’s brutalism – with Japanese tradition, the early works of Isozaki were defined by syncretism. By the convulsive 1970s, however, the inspiration of Japanese tradition gave way to a manner of designing where, combining the technical and formal realms, structural expertise went hand in hand with an internationalism that was wide open to the different currents of the period, with the result that Isozaki was considered both cosmopolitan and eclectic. So it is that the Takasaki Museum of Art (1974) evokes the minimalist trihedrons then being explored by Sol Lewitt, the Yano House (1975) with its cannon vault transept and centralized type is a refined example of postmodernity that augurs other, less convincing pseudoclassicist exercises, such as the Tsukuba Civic Center (1983), a collage of quotes from works by Louis Kahn, James Stirling, and even Philip Johnson.

The postmodern years were also those of the transformation of Isozaki’s studio into the potent international firm that would in the course of the next three decades construct over a hundred buildings in different languages in the world’s principal cities, from Los Angeles – where he carried out his first work outside Japan, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) – to Turin by way of New York, Stuttgart, Orlando, and of course Barcelona, where he raised the building that brought him fame, the Palau de Sant Jordi for the Olympic Games of Barcelona in 1992, with its extraordinary spatial conception, structural rigor, and exceptional execution. Many architects still retain in their retinas the image of the pavilion’s large lattices, which went up little by little with the help of hydraulic jacks. The Palau’s success fostered his relationship with Spain, giving rise to a series of commissions that included the Museum of Man in A Coruña, a huge wall clad in local slate in which Isozaki worked in collaboration with César Portela.

Isozaki, who has served as visiting professor at Harvard, Yale, and Columbia, is the eighth Japanese to receive the Pritzker Prize, after his master Kenzo Tange, his contemporary Fumihiko Maki, and the younger Tadao Ando, Toyo Ito, Kazuyo Sejima / Ryue Nishizawa, and Shigeru Ban. The awarding ceremony will be held in May in Paris.
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