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

    Republicans Struggle With Reality of Trump Nomination

    Despite calls for unity by presumptive presidential nominee, analysts see inevitable fragmentation of party ahead of November election and beyond

    Despite Cease-fire, Myanmar Landmine Scourge Goes Unaddressed

    Myanmar has third-highest mine casualty rate in the world, according to Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, which says between 1999 to 2014 it recorded 3,745 casualties, 396 of whom died

    Goodbye Ketchup, Hello Sriracha?

    From meat and potatoes to avocados, how immigrants transform American cuisine

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora