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

    Self-doubt, Cultural Barriers Hinder Cambodian Women in Tech

    Longtime Cambodian tech observer Sok Sikieng says that although more women have joined profession in recent years, there remain significant factors hindering women from reaching tech potential

    Trans-Adriatic Pipeline to Boost European Energy Security

    $4.5 billion-pipeline will become operational in 2020 and will deliver gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to southern Italy

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Annual festival showcases the region's harvested agriculture, fine wines and offers opportunities to experience the gentle breeze in a hot air balloon flight

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora