News / Asia

Asia Again Takes Architecture's Top Prize

Toyo Ito, left, receives the 2013 Pritzker Architecture Prize from Thomas J. Pritzker, at ceremonies in Boston, May 29, 2013.Toyo Ito, left, receives the 2013 Pritzker Architecture Prize from Thomas J. Pritzker, at ceremonies in Boston, May 29, 2013.
x
Toyo Ito, left, receives the 2013 Pritzker Architecture Prize from Thomas J. Pritzker, at ceremonies in Boston, May 29, 2013.
Toyo Ito, left, receives the 2013 Pritzker Architecture Prize from Thomas J. Pritzker, at ceremonies in Boston, May 29, 2013.
Sarah Williams
For the second consecutive year, an Asian has won architecture's top award. 

Japanese architect Toyo Ito is the newest recipient of the Pritzker Prize, considered to be the “Nobel Prize” of architecture.  Ito traveled from Tokyo to receive the award at a recent ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. 

Last year, Wang Shu of China won the prestigious award.

“I’m very much honored and surprised,” Ito said.

Observers had been predicting for some time that the 72-year-old architect would be selected one day for his profession’s highest honor. “I understand that this always happens without your expectation, and it depends on how the jury members consider that year’s highlights, so I understand it’s worth the wait,” he said.

One of the 2013 jury members was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, an architecture buff who helped with the design and construction of Boston’s federal courthouse.

US Supreme Court Justice Steven BreyerUS Supreme Court Justice Steven Breyer
x
US Supreme Court Justice Steven Breyer
US Supreme Court Justice Steven Breyer
“[Ito’s] a very important architect throughout the world, he has built all kinds of buildings throughout his career, including quite a few public buildings,” Justice Breyer said.  “He spends a great deal of time thinking about them, and they have been successful; they invite the public in, they have an atmosphere of calm, of light, space and it is attractive space.”

Ito was born in 1941 to Japanese parents in what is now Seoul, South Korea. He was educated in Tokyo, and opened his own architectural practice there in 1971.  His prominent buildings include Municipal Funeral Hall in Gifu, Japan, the 2002 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London, and his personal favorite, the Sendai Mediatheque Library, which survived Japan’s 2011 earthquake.

Sendai Mediatheque, exterior, Miyagi, Japan (Courtesy Tomio Ohashi)Sendai Mediatheque, exterior, Miyagi, Japan (Courtesy Tomio Ohashi)
x
Sendai Mediatheque, exterior, Miyagi, Japan (Courtesy Tomio Ohashi)
Sendai Mediatheque, exterior, Miyagi, Japan (Courtesy Tomio Ohashi)
The transparent library building is composed of structural tubes that support the floors, and is designed to withstand earthquakes. “It took me six years to develop,” said Ito. “At the beginning we had a lot of resistance from the neighbors, but in the end, when it was completed, everybody received it very favorably and everybody enjoyed the building, which is quite a happy thing for me.”

A dramatic video shot in the Sendai Mediatheque during the 2011 earthquake shows the building swaying, but remaining intact. The architect says the structure has a special technological system, designed to withstand temblors. While suffering some damage, the building reopened two months after the earthquake. “I was impressed by the people’s enthusiasm and passion for reopening the facility as soon as possible,” he said.

Japan’s recurring earthquakes have forced architects to prepare for them, according to Ito.

“After the great earthquake in the Hanshin area [in 1995], Japanese buildings have been improving in terms of earthquake resistance structure, so in that sense in Tohoku [the 2011 earthquake] hardly any of the buildings went down, which means the earthquake resistance technologies have improved,” he said. “But as far as the tsunami is concerned, it’s still very difficult to be prepared for such disasters.”

Tom Pritzker, president of the Hyatt Foundation which funds the prizes, was not on the jury. But he is impressed by Ito’s efforts to assist those affected by the 2011 disaster.

“What Mr. Ito did, post-tsunami, and post-earthquake, in working with housing for the displaced, as well as what he’s done on some of his grand buildings, demonstrate to me a flexibility and an agility to work on projects of variety of scales and with different needs,” said Pritzker.

Pritzker believes the awards draw much-needed attention to the profession. “It sort of blends art with practicality,” he said. “The people who emerge as Pritzker laureates are very deep thinkers, and active doers, and they’re fun people as well, so from a personal point of view it’s quite fulfilling.”

Municipal Funeral Hall, Kakamigahara-shi, Gifu, Japan. Design by Toyo Ito.Municipal Funeral Hall, Kakamigahara-shi, Gifu, Japan. Design by Toyo Ito.
x
Municipal Funeral Hall, Kakamigahara-shi, Gifu, Japan. Design by Toyo Ito.
Municipal Funeral Hall, Kakamigahara-shi, Gifu, Japan. Design by Toyo Ito.
Ito said being named the second consecutive Pritzker Prize winner from Asia a sign of Asia’s growing economic clout, which in turn boosts construction and the need for architects.  And he said he believes Asian architecture increasingly is showing its own identity.

“In Japan, for more than 100 years, we’ve been importing the technology and architects, basically, from Western countries, we always try to make Western architecture an example,” he said.  “However, going forward, we like to make architecture which is more open to nature.”

Justice Breyer, who served on the previous jury which selected Shu, says it seems Asia is becoming a new center for architecture.

“They’re building things,” Breyer said. “And when they’re building things all over in China, in Japan, in Asia, maybe that reflects the economic boom, the technology boom, you’d have to ask others on that, but since a lot of architectural work is going on there, it’s not surprising at all to me that a lot of architects are interested in the buildings that go up there.”

For his part, Ito believes architects should never lose sight of their humanity. “Young architects are chasing fashionable architecture, and they are following only the expression," he said. “I always say to young people, think to whom architecture should be created.”

Noting that "architecture is very restrictive, and people are confined by a lot of restrictions," Ito was asked what an architect's goal should be. "To get freedom,” he said.

You May Like

Hostage Crisis Could Divide Japan Over Plans to Boost Military

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday the government is working closely with the Jordanian government to secure the release of remaining Japanese hostage Kenji Goto More

Video Brussels Shaken as New Greek Leader Challenges Europe’s Austerity Drive

Country's youngest ever PM Alexis Tsipras, 40, sworn in Monday and says he will restore dignity to Greece by ending spending cuts More

Multimedia National Geographic Photo Camps Empower Youth

Annual mentoring program's mission is to give young people a voice to tell their own stories through photography More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid