Toyo Ito: A Profile of the Pritzker Winner


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Toyo Ito: A Profile of the Pritzker Winner

This week 71 year old architect Toyo Ito hit headlines as he became the 36th recipient of the prestigious Pritzker Prize. Amidst this press buzz, Gloobbi decided to take a look at his background and trace how he came to be such a forerunner in his field.

Born in 1941 in Seoul to Japanese parents, Ito was not always interested in architecture, harbouring instead ambitions of becoming a baseball player. After the death of his father, when Ito was just 12, Ito and his family moved back to Japan where he went on to attend the University of Tokyo. It was there where his interest in architecture flourished and as part of his design diploma he proposed a reconstruction of Ueno Park which won the top prize awarded at the university.

After a post graduation stint with architectural firm Kiyonon Kikutake & Associates, Ito established his own studio in 1971. Originally named Urban Robot (Urbot), it was later rechristened Toyo Ito & Associates. Ito and his company went on to win countless awards and be exhibited in museums all over the world. After 40 years of work, Ito’s firm has fostered a whole new generation of Japanese architects, including Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, who won the Pritzker back in 2010.

At the beginning of his professional career he worked primarily on residences, during which time he developed a style foundered on minimalism, lightness and a rejection of convention. Although demonstrating a diverse portfolio which refuses to be pigeonholed, Ito has become known for striking white structures of dynamic shapes and lines. This style can be seen particularly in his 2004 design for TOD’s, an Italian shoe and handbag company, in which trees acted as a key inspiration. Ito’s office described the project saying:

“Trees are natural objects that stand by themselves, and their shape has an inherent structural rationality. The pattern of overlapping tree silhouettes also generates a rational flow of forces. Having adapted the branched tree diagram, the higher up the building, the thinner and more numerous the branches become, with a higher ration of openings. Similarly, the building unfolds as interior spaces with slightly different atmospheres relating to the various intended uses.”

This idea was seen also in his earlier design for the Sendai Mediatheque library whereby supportive columns of bamboo-like tubes rise up through the building’s seven floors. This was a case of beauty meets function as the structure served as a test of earthquake-proof technology, the white tubes playing a key part in this. Ito’s design passed this test when the building suffered little to no damage in the March 2011 earthquake.

Like many highly successful people in their field, Ito never resigns himself to comfortable complacency and uses this restless energy to push ever forward in his quest for reinvention and innovation. In response to his Pritzker Prize win Ito stated that:

“When one building is completed, I become painfully aware of my own inadequacy, and it turns into energy to challenge the next project. Therefore I will never fix my architectural style and never be satisfied with my works.”

by Annie-Rose Harrison-Dunn
Gloobbi Representative

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