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

Video British Fighters on Frontline of Islamic State Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Pakistan's Political Turmoil Again Shines Spotlight on Military

Thousands of protesters calling for PM Sharif to step down continue protests in front of parliament, as critics fear political impasse could spur another military coup More

Photogallery Ebola Quarantines Spark Anxiety in Liberian Capital

Food prices rise sharply as residents attempting purchases clash with security forces, leaving one person dead More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid